Category: Political Power

BOLD Gathering: A ‘Movement Moment’ for LGBT People of Color to Build Political Power

Corrected. There was a moment during one of NGLTF’s Creating Change conferences in the early 1990s when a small group of LGBT activists of color gathered to discuss where they fit in the larger LGBT liberation movement. Joel Tan, a radical young gay Asian artist from Los Angeles whose powerful presence made him the de facto leader, forcefully complained about how there were NO leaders of color and that the rich gay white power structure didn’t give them any respect.

By chance, Phill Wilson, co-founder of the National Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum, and Urvashi Vaid, NGLTF’s executive director, popped their heads in just then to see how the meeting was progressing.  They laughed and said, “What about us?” Tan looked at them with something akin to scorn. Perhaps because of the age difference or their leadership status or because they seemed to be comfortable with the power structure – but somehow they didn’t understand, they didn’t count, they didn’t represent real grassroots LGBTs of color. Tan retorted, “Well, there are no gay ASIAN leaders!” Urvashi explained that she was born in New Delhi, India from Southeast Asia. Urvashi and Phill then left and the group resumed a discussion that seemed to go in endless circles.

That NLGTF moment was poignant for its commonality: such encounters between angry youth and battle-scared old-timers are endless in political movements. But too often in communities prickly from years of external discrimination and internalized oppression, one-upmanship conflicts dissipate the idealistic energy of activism. Joel Tan subsequently disappeared, apparently to concentrate on his art. Like Joel, many other people of color (POC) groups either faded away for lack of organizational funding or included an HIV education program to attract capacity building grants.

That endless cycle may now be changing. An effort by LGBT POC called the Bold Gathering is underway in Minneapolis, Minnesota this weekend to both recognize and honor cultural and political differences amongst the groups and to learn how to come together to build “political power and change the course of the LGBT movement,” according to Ari Gutiérrez, co-founder of LA-based Honor PAC and the Latino Equality Alliance.  “The first official event is an honoring ceremony and feast at a nearby Native American Reservation – where the Chief is a lesbian.”

“This is our Movement Moment — one that will be marked by communities of color becoming the majority in this country within the next two decades. As a result, we have an unprecedented opportunity to move the movement towards justice and full inclusiveness. Why? Because working towards justice, rather than just-us, has always been the legacy of queer and trans communities of color. In order to do so we need to build towards understanding one another’s issues and working across communities to achieve collective power,” Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz, an author and principal of Intersections/Intersecciones Consulting, a leading LGBT social justice consultant firm, said in a Bold Gathering press release.

The Bold Gathering is bringing together over 180 representatives from over 80 POC-led community based organizations that work in empowering POC LGBT constituencies from all over the US. The Gathering is being underwritten by eight LGBTQ funders as part of the Racial Equity Initiative. According to the Bold Gathering press release:

“When the initiative was launched in 2008, there were over $100 million in annual grant awards to LGBT agencies, but only 12% 1% were awarded to LGBT POC organizations. Yet, combined, people of color communities make up a majority of the population in the United States and each includes a proportion of LGBT identified people, as do other communities.  People of color communities including those from African American, Latino/Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American/Two-Spirit and others also tend to experience more conservative attitudes about sexuality and concurrently have the highest incidences of economic, health and educational disparities.

At a time when the national and statewide LGBT organizations are focused on winning state and federal marriage equality, POC LGBT organizations are working within the intersection of their LGBT and ethnic identities and challenging their own ethnic communities to win basic acknowledgement and acceptance.”

Gutiérrez is mindful of the No on Prop 8 experience where LGBT communities of color felt disrespected by the larger LGBT community – while at the same time recognizing the work that needed to be done within their own communities. Gutiérrez helped found two LGBT Latino political groups to help bridge the gap.

“In California, we have worked on marriage equality and would again if necessary. However, working on marriage equality in our Latino communities seems illogical when our LGBT community has not sufficiently done the advocacy and support work for family acceptance” said Gutiérrez. “Our learned lesson is that it’s our own leaders of color who best succeed in establishing and activating the networks necessary to create community-wide cultural change.”

“In our Native American culture, our traditions take precedence in how we approach our two-spirit work, but we find that funders often do not understand our work and that the granting process in many ways are at odds with our cultural approach,” explained Harlan Pruden, Co-Founder of the NorthEast Two Spirit Society based in New York City and member of the Cree Nation.  ”As our two-spirit communities struggle to fund our organizations – we operate as a minority group within a minority group making empowering our two-spirit community very difficult.”

The Minneapolis-based PFund Foundation, along with the Astraea Foundation, devised the program. “Our focus is in creating an opportunity for the leaders of People of Color LGBT organizations across the nation to know and learn from each other and also to provide an opportunity for our foundation peers to better understand the LGBT movement from the perspective of LGBT POC organizations,” explained Alfonso Wenker of the PFund Foundation.

As the Bold Gathering release explains:

Communities of color are often disproportionately affected by anti-LGBT policies.  For example, a Williams Institute (UCLA School of Law) analysis of US military discharge data suggests that, over time, ethnic women bore an increasingly large burden of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

In a front-page New York Times story published in January, Gary Gates, a demographer and distinguished scholar at the Williams Institute observed, “Black or Latino gay couples are twice as likely as whites to be raising children…They are also more likely than their white counterparts to be struggling economically.”  He goes on to explain that, “A large number of gay couples, possibly a majority, entered into their current relationship after first having children with partners in heterosexual relationships.”  As a result, many same-sex couples with children are living in communities with little, if any, LGBT support and programming.  In fact, recently released data from Census 2010 shows that same-sex couples raising children are more common in socially conservative areas of the country like the South and Southwest that include large communities of color.

The conveners believe that increasingly the success of the LGBT movement itself will rely on the success of its work within communities of color.

“At some point, the large LGBT organizations, their funders and ally supporters need to change their culture and approach and instead work in tandem with our LGBT POC organizations.  It’s important they understand that work in LGBT POC communities is actually the key to winning equality, including marriage equality,” stated Gregory Walker, Managing Director of the Philadelphia based The Brothers’ Network.  “Our collective work in POC communities would go far in improving the lives of LGBT Americans but it takes winning support of our ethnic families and communities and we need the help of an inclusive and culturally sensitive LGBT movement,” she added.

# # #

The BOLD Gathering is a Queer* & Trans People of Color Gathering to Support our Liberation and Self-Determination is an invitation only gathering designed by and for LGBT POC representatives and sponsored by the eight primary funders for LGBT issues. For more information and to support the effort please visit  

 *Queer is used as a term of self-empowerment and is not indented to offend or deter from the right to self-identity of LGBT individuals.

Deconstructing the Angry West Hollywood Election

(UPDATED to delete inaccuracy): For some long-term West Hollywood residents, there has never been as nasty a campaign season as the one leading up to the Tuesday, March 8 election for three seats on the West Hollywood City Council.  Unsubstantiated allegations of corruption and campaign finance irregularities – standard fare for most political contests – have devolved into a very real breach between women and gay men in a community internationally renown for welcoming diversity.

Unlike the city of Los Angeles, where the seven councilmembers elected from 26 candidates will have to cut jobs and public services to close a $404-million budget gap (the mayor and city council have already dealt with a $1-billion shortfall over the last two years),  the 1.9 square mile city of West Hollywood has a $68.5 million General Fund reserve, has not had to cut jobs or social services and is, in fact, building a library and expanding and renovating Plummer Park with money raised, saved and designated for those projects.

But while the city of West Hollywood has its fiscal house in order, it is in serious danger of losing its mythology – the belief that WeHo is an urban village where all – especially society’s odd creative outsiders – are welcome.

What follows is not an endorsement or intended to otherwise suggest for whom the reader should vote. In fact, I strongly urge you to check out this post that features all nine candidates on video speaking directly into the camera about why they are running. Rather, this piece is an attempt to offer another perspective to the barrage of slanted blog coverage, which has often been misleading, incorrect – or in a few cases, downright scandalous.

The West Hollywood Democratic Club endorsement, part one

The anticipated fireworks did not materialize at the second West Hollywood Democratic Club endorsement meeting

Endorsed incumbents Mayor John Heilman, Councilmember Lndsey Horvath, Councilmember Abbe Land (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

at the National Council of Jewish Women LA headquarters Monday, Feb. 21. It was a far cry from the earlier meeting when the club’s recommended candidates in the March 8 election for WeHo City Council – incumbents Mayor John Heilman and Councilmembers Abbe Land and Lindsey Horvath – received a majority of votes but not the required 60 percent of credentialed club voters, thanks to a surge in new members supporting the challengers. This time the club voted 48-10 to endorse Heilman, Land and Horvath.

Two of the biggest issues discussed during this WeHo election campaign have been strict parking enforcement (requested by the neighbors in those heavily-trafficked business and nightclub areas) and over-development, an issue mostly involving vacant buildings that the city planning commission and the city council might not have foreseen at a time when the truth of the near-Great Depression economy was hidden even from incoming President Obama.  And, as was revealed during one of the candidate forums, sometimes people believe in false assumptions such as: Is development of new affordable housing a priority over preserving existing rent controlled housing? “That’s a false dichotomy,” said incumbent Mayor John Heilman. “You need both.”

The President’s Day meeting started with tension in the air. Everyone seemed braced for a confrontation, the new-normal whenever the challengers – six gay men with varying degrees of political experience: John D’Amico, Scott Schmidt, Steve Martin, Mito Aviles, Lucas John and Mark Gonzaga – encounter the incumbents seeking re-election.

Tension, anger and distortions of the facts are standard in almost every political election – commonly explained away as “just politics.” In small elections that do not draw the attention of, candidates usually feel free to say whatever they want without close scrutiny – there is little chance they will wind up in court, under oath, having to back up their assertions with evidence under a withering and precise cross examination by David Boies, as he questioned the ProtectMarriage witnesses in the federal Prop 8 trial.

Some distortions are minor and easy to fact check. For instance, candidate John D’Amico’s supporter Vince Roncone wrote a Facebook post Monday, Feb. 21, about the “urgent special meeting” called by the West Hollywood Democratic Club.  In fact, it was a regularly scheduled general meeting with club endorsements, club president Josh Kurpies told me, not “urgent” or “special” nor was it called for or coordinated by Heilman, Land and Horvath, as Roncone contends.

But it’s the sexism in Roncone’s inaccurate Facebook alert that seems echoed by most of the challengers:

“Lindsey Horvath was appointed to the council and is new to the community. She belongs to the College Republican Club where she was an advocate for George W. Bush and the Iraq war. Abbe Land whispers, Horvath is being harassed because she is a woman but, ignores her attachment to Lindsey’s appointment and campaign. 39 qualified community servants were overlooked – which included other democratic woman.”

Gay Republican candidate Scott Schmidt

First of all, given the above complaint, no New Yorker should have ever voted for Hillary Clinton for US Senate. She did not live in New York when she decided to run for Senate, she once was a Goldwater Republican and in October 2002, as a Democrat, she voted for the war in Iraq. In Clinton’s case, no one seemed to hold her right to change her mind and party affiliation against her. In Horvath’s case, however, some of the WeHo challengers make her youthful membership in the Republican Party – a result of family influence – an albatross from which she can never be freed, despite her publicly expressed regrets. The blatant sexism here is that while some of these challengers are going after Horvath, challenger Scott Schmidt is the proud and effective president of the LA chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans and none of his fellow challengers have raised the “R” word against him.

The contentious appointment process

Roncone’s ire is focused on Horvath’s appointment over “39 qualified community servants.” Yet the appointment process to fill a seat vacancy has a long history – the most recent California example is Gov. Schwarzenegger appointing Abel Maldonado to replace Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who was elected to Congress in a special election. After Horvath’s appointment, WeHo City Clerk Tom West posted an unscientific survey on the City Clerks Association  listserv asking how many cities had held special elections to fill a vacancy or used the appointment process or waited until the next election. West said he received 48 responses, 44 in which clerks said their city filled vacancies through appointments.

It’s my understanding that the City Council’s decision to appoint someone to fill out the term of the late Councilmember Sal Guarriello instead of holding a special election was because a full council was urgently needed to make some important upcoming decisions. Additionally, the city wanted to save the money it would take to hold a special election: writing, printing and mailing a ballot, notifications, publicizing the election, sponsoring and televising debates, setting up a special page on the City Clerk’s website, setting up polling places, getting and training volunteer poll workers, taking city staff away from other duties to handle the election, etc.

The appointment process was open, transparent and decided before the public in an open city council meeting viewed on television and online.  Of the 39 people who filed applications for the job (all applications are public record), 36 came to the meeting and had an opportunity to make a presentation. Additionally, people for certain candidates and people against the process spoke during public comment.

The City Council took one long night to make the appointment, narrowing the list from 39 down to 12 and then the

Lindsey Horvath and Abbe Land (center) at Laurel Park opening (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

top five. There is a persistent rumor among supporters of the challengers that the councilmembers agreed beforehand to give each other a “secret veto” of one candidate that the others could not contest. That is given as a reason for the elimination of such highly respected candidates as Kate Bartolo and John Altschul.  However – such an arrangement would be a clear and serious violation of the California Brown Act, (visit Californians Aware for an explanation of the Brown Act), which prohibits elected officials from discussing and making decisions together out of view of the public. Since Heilman is a law professor, Mayor Pro Tem John Duran is an attorney, and Councilmember Jeffrey Prang is the Assistant City Manager for the city of Pico Rivera – as well as the required ethics training for all elected and appointed public officials – such illegal collusion is difficult to imagine without evidence. So far, there has been no complaint filed with the West Hollywood City Clerk or City Attorney or the LA District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division or the Secretary of State.

Land vehemently denied that such an action occurred:

“We did not. That did not happen. We did not have a secret veto. Our process was done at council meetings and during those meetings, people were voted on or people said who they supported. And so some of those people might not have been supported. But there was no pre-ordained secret veto – that would have been a violation of the Brown Act. We had a process. We made our thoughts known during that process in open council meetings. We had candidates come and speak to us. We conducted the proceedings according to the laws.”

Horvath was the only candidate who made the Top Five list of all four councilmembers. Prior to the selection process, all the applicants agreed they would support whoever was appointed. When the list got down to three applicants –  two gay men, Joseph Guardarrama and Agassi Topchian, and Horvath – the council decided to compromise. Horvath had votes from Heilman and Land and Prang finally offered to change his vote. With those three votes, the councilmembers asked Duran if he would be willing to support Horvath. Duran agreed and the vote on the Horvath appointment was unanimous.

Some wonder if the appointment process would become so controversial if a gay man had been appointed instead of a young straight woman.

WeHo Democratic Club endorsement, part two

Nonetheless, Horvath’s appointment has become a lightening rod for the challengers. And yet after all the sturm und

Lindsey Horvath and Jeanne Dobrin, foreground, who refused to leave the podium (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

drang raised at the first West Hollywood Democratic Club meeting, only two people opposed the club’s final endorsement of the incumbents. One of them, 90 year old Jeanne Dobrin, actually announced support for Land and Heilman (to a lesser degree) while slamming their “slate” – and Horvath, who Dobrin said knew nothing about zoning and land use issues. (Ironically, Horvath said she took UCLA Extension classes on land use and zoning with Sue Buckner after the former applicant was named to the Planning Commission. Horvath appointed Guardaramma, who calls her “a smart person, a good person. She really puts he community’s best interest first when she votes.”)

Ed Buck, a former WeHo council candidate, was the other endorsement opponent. “This three-way endorsement is an abomination,” he said, noting that when he ran in 2007 “the deck was stacked” against him. “I saw the ugly underbelly” of politics. I got very mad.” He told me later that the club’s endorsement was a “done deal.”

Indeed, Mito Aviles was the only one of the six challengers who attended the meeting, but his appearance seemed more perfunctory than focused. He talked vaguely about how people in West Hollywood want to have a voice and be included in the process of the city” without giving any specifics.

Challenger Steve Martin, who was once on the West Hollywood Ciyt Council and once president of Stonewall Democratic Club, later said that it was a “waste of time going” and disparaged the club’s endorsement. “They don’t do any work. How many volunteers do they generate? How many volunteers does Stonewall generate? It’s not worth the emotional effort.”

Heilman, Land and Horvath showed up, talked about their love for the city and appealed precisely to the Democratic nature of the club. “I support and believe in Democratic values. This is not just an endorsement,” Horvath said. “I regret nothing more than supporting another party in the past.” Now as a progressive, she is running for re-election to “demonstrate exactly what ‘progressive’ means in West Hollywood.”

In fact, after Arizona passed the abhorrent anti-immigrant “documents please” SB1070, Horvath introduced a resolution to ban official travel to Arizona and review contracts with Arizona-based businesses.  Some of her challengers have questioned why West Hollywood should care about discrimination in Arizona.

At the meeting, Heilman, who is known to many of the members – nonetheless made a respectful pitch for their votes of endorsement. He noted some of his long list of accomplishments, including launching the Sunset Strip Business Association, the Convention and Marketing Bureau, and the Avenue of Arts and Design, as well as his commitment to affordable housing and his “passion” for social services. Land contested the argument that the city is no longer following the progressive values upon which it was founded. “We have not strayed…This is a community that cares,” she said, adding that she’s proud of the work she’s done. She noted that West Hollywood now has a Triple A Bond rating.

Jeff Prang, who once seemed to be the favored councilmember of some of the neighborhood groups trying to oust

Councilmember Jeffrey Prang and Commissioner Ruth Williams

Heilman and Lang, defended his council colleagues and the club’s procedures. In a phone interview, he said that local political activists and elected officials are involved on a regular basis with club activities such as phone banking for club-supported issues and candidates. The endorsement process itself is not a simple beauty contest but rather entails an interview process and candidates are required “to meet certain standards.” That means, Prang said, “that the club members know the incumbents, they’re well-liked and the challengers have an uphill battle. And most of these challengers are not active in Democratic Party politics.”

West Hollywood Public Safety Commissioner Ruth Williams made a similar point, noting that Horvath is considered something of a heroine to women for her work as Hollywood chapter president of NOW. Working with community leaders and LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, she found the money to fund testing for the huge backlog of DNA evidence in unsolved and unprosecuted rape cases. Women view rape as a matter of public safety, not merely a political and apparently easily dismissed “women’s” issue. In fact, it was Williams who first suggested four years ago that Horvath, an entertainment ad executive, run for political office.

Endorsement by the Democratic Party and Democratic clubs are no small matter since with endorsement comes mailers and robo-calls. LA County Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman, who is also Vice-Chair of the California Democratic Party and former president of the Stonewall Democratic Club, is making energetic phone calls urging WeHo to vote for Heilman, Land and Horvath.

Michael Andraychak and Eric Bauman voting (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

“The LA County Democratic Party will disseminate our endorsements aggressively and widely to voters in West Hollywood, via mail, phone and email. We take our involvement in races like West Hollywood most seriously,” said Bauman told me.

Bauman and his husband Michael Andraychak (the couple is celebrating 28 years on March 27 and were legally married in October 2008) spoke at the WeHo Democratic Club meeting. Andraychak was perplexed that some voters were so anxious to unseat “good solid leadership” in a city that is “operating in the black” and is “in good [financial] shape today. Do you have any idea what’s going on” in this economy? Andraychak asked.

Bauman came to the podium waving a copy of the LA Weekly cover story featuring Mito Aviles and “marionettes” Heilman and Land. “This is not journalism – this is trash,” Bauman said angrily, regarding a story with which many found fault. He, too, cited the city’s “stellar bond rating,” adding that he lives in the “near bankrupt city of Los Angeles.”

Former WeHo city council candidate Ruth Williams also spoke for the incumbents. Williams said she has lived in West Hollywood since 1949 and was part of the cityhood movement. Heilman, Land and Horvath, “have proven and committed themselves to the values of the Democratic Party and the West Hollywood Democratic Club,” she said. “They have a proven record with the Democratic Party” and they didn’t just bring in members to get an endorsement. She was clearly upset over what she called the “unfair” and “sexist” tone of campaign, which she hopes is an “aberration.”

In a later interview, Williams, who is Director of Advocacy at NCJW/LA, was furious over a story that appeared in the WeHoNews blog that she had called the LAPD to come to the meeting, ostensibly because the blog’s controversial publisher Ryan Gierach was there to cover the club’s meeting.  Williams said that earlier she discussed with Capt. Davis how the Jewish Center has to constantly be on guard against possible hate crimes and the officers just stopped by that night to check in.

Charges of corruption and other campaign complaints

There have been numerous complaints about “corruption” at City Hall, including campaign finance irregularities that the DA’s office is “actively” investigation. This is from the Perez Hilton-wanna-be blog WeHo Confidential:

“ Lindsey Horvath is now being investigated for illegal campaign practices for using city logos, letter head & email contacts to fund her 2011 re-election campaign. She will receive a misdemeanor once found guilty.”

DA spokesperson Jane Robison says, however, that one complaint against Horvath received last November was an

open-and-shut case because the complaint “lacked merit;” the DA’s office has no such active investigation. The

Campaign poser for Mito Aviles

complaint pertained to Horvath’s use of the city logo on her campaign website, which was immediately taken down when City Clerk Tom West sent out a letter informing all candidates such use was a violation. Candidate Mito Aviles also used the city logo until then as well, but there was no formal complaint filed with the DA’s office nor has there been any publicity or charges of corruption leveled against Aviles.

Another more complicated charge of corruption was initially raised last year by candidate Steve Martin in his column on the WeHo News blog. Martin suggested that Abbe Land may have violated state public disclosure laws because the website for the non-profit Saban Free Clinicwhere she is a co-director, showed contributions from people who also come before the city to do business. He suggested that Land solicited those donations for the charity she runs – but failed to disclose the solicitation and the amounts received in the state conflict-of-interest forms. In a phone interview, Land said she has always complied with all laws and filed conflict-of-interest forms – WeHo City Clerk Tom West said are available for public viewing at the office but not yet online.

Land said:

“I don’t believe I have violated conflict of interest laws. Some of those donations like Live Nation – were other people in the organization – mainly volunteers – solicit. They’re friends of board members, they’re board members of the organization and I have not solicited people. And I do not believe that I have violated the conflict of interest laws.”

I named a few donors – Live Nation (which owns the House of Blue site), Page and Lou Adler (who owns Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset), Susan and Alan Casden (owner of Movietown Plaza). Land said:

“Those people are people that board members and volunteers at the clinic solicit for funds – many of them have been giving for years – Lou Adler was involved with the clinic when it started in 1967. They give on a regular basis and I am not usually soliciting their dollars.  I don’t solicit the dollars of people that are doing business in front of the city for the clinic. Many of those names are people who are on our board, who are longtime supporters of the clinic or who have been solicited by other people who are involved with the clinic and based on their relationship.”

I asked if she filled out Form 700, the conflict of interest form:

“Yes, I do. That’s the form I fill out every year and I have to say where I own property, where you work and I declare where I work at the clinic, and any other income that you get. And I also have to declare if my husband has any interest that is over $10,000 – that he might have received revenue from people doing business here. So I disclose all of that, if it’s applicable.”

Mayor John Heilman (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Another complaint wafting through the challengers’ campaigns about the pressure lobbyists feel to contribute to the incumbents’ charities, whether it’s having to go to a dinner for the Saban Free Clinic or receiving an email from John Heilman announcing that he’s running in APLA’s annual AIDS Marathon and asking for financial support. On the campaign trial, Heilman says he’s proud of the $200,000 he’s raised for AIDS at APLA. But apparently at least one lobbyist, who would not give his name, said he felt his job required a financial response to that fundraising solicitation letter – as well as to contribute to Doctors Without Borders, another favorite Heilman charity – so Heilman would see his name on the list of donors and therefore feel favorably inclined towards the lobbyist and/or his project.

I’ve received those APLA fundraising letters from Heilman, too, but have never felt pressure to contribute in order to maintain access to him as a journalist. I didn’t ask him if he culled the names of lobbyists from his presumably large charity-related email list.

There’s also a complaint about lack of transparency at City Hall regarding how the city went from a $100 million reserve to $68 million – as if there is something nefarious about the “disappearance” of that money. But City Manager Paul Arevalo, City Clerk Tom West and Anil Gandhy, Director of Finance and Technology, point to the Financial Reports posted on the city’s website featuring the Budget and specifically the 2009-2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) to show exactly how the city spent its money and balanced its budget – without layoffs or cuts or reduction in services. Arevalo notes that in the last five years, there has been a “draw down” on the General Fund only last year and this year – $10 million for two cash-funded projects: $6-7 million for the Sunset Renovation project and $3 million for the purchase of property. There has also been some fiscal transfer for the parks and library capital projects, as well.

“There has been no drastic hemorrhaging of General Funds,” Arevalo said, adding that the Bond rating had recently been recalculated with the city receiving a Triple A Bond rating, while the city of Los Angeles was downgraded.

Women feel under attack

CBS late night host David Letterman and the LA Times noticed the blatant sexism in how CBS and Warner Bros. looked the other way when actor Charlie Sheen’s bad behavior included deadly threats to his ex-wife – but suspended Sheen’s hit show Two and a Half Men after Sheen disparaged the show’s male creator.

From the LA Time’s Mary McNamara:

“So now we know.

If you are the star of a hit comedy on CBS, you can keep your job in spite of accusations of: threatening your pregnant second wife; holding a knife to your third wife’s throat on Christmas Day; and indulging in cocaine-fueled weekends during which your bizarre behavior causes your female companion to fear for her life.

But say mean things about Chuck Lorre and You Are Toast.”

It’s troubling that Letterman and the LA Times can ascertain when blatant sexism is right in front of them – but that somehow eludes the gay male candidates who claim to want to represent the entire city of West Hollywood, including its women.

Since the uproar over the Tom of Finland exhibit – which longtime feminist and artist Ivy Bottini first brought to the attention of Mayor Pro Tem John Duran – gay men in WeHo have been issuing a call to “Take Back Boystown” from straights with strollers. Though West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce board president Alan Bernstein is a proud gay dad who has strolled his children in the Christopher Street West Pride parade – many women have perceived the call to “Take Back Boystown” as a slight against their very presence.

It is part of a larger national Zeitgeist women have been feeling for a while: the assassination attempt against Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords; the brutal sexual assault against CBS News correspondent Lara Logan by 200 men in Afghanistan and the subsequent Internet attacks suggesting she deserved it because she’s pretty; the religious and political right wing attacks against abortion rights and the Congressional defunding of Planned Parenthood – prompting California Rep. Jackie Speier to stand up on the House floor and talk about terminating her own pregnancy.

When WeHo News blogger Ryan Gierach posted video of him aggressively chasing Lindsey Horvath at the opening of Laurel Park – some WeHo women started feeling as if the national assault was coming home. There was – and continues to be – as sense of insecurity and anger – especially among lesbians who have always stood by gay men, even when gay men were too afraid to stand by each other during the AIDS crisis. Why don’t these theoretically sensitive gay men – the ones who recently rose up over feeling their culture was threatened – why don’t they understand the threatening situation women find themselves in today?

But instead – in the name of “anything goes” election politics – the attacks have not only come home but have intensified.

Lucas John, one of the gay male candidates, tells the WeHo News he has “better things to do with my time than to police comments & edit articles to appease third parties or extremists”  after the Lucas John -supportive WeHo Confidential called Land a “shady puta,” (whore) and let stand a comment referring to Horvath as “Whore-bath.”

Meanwhile, the WestHollywood Patch (the AOL micro-site) let stand a comment suggesting Land be hanged:


8:48am on Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It was a public Hanging. We need to publicly hang those who think it is a good idea that our Sheriff policing Force drives down from the Antelope Valley everyday on the 14 freeway instead of having our own WHPD.

West Hollywood bleeds public safety dollars to people who do not even live here and who vote for Sarah Palin first. West Hollywood does more to support Pro 8 Republicans than any other city in the county.

They should put up Abbe Land then next time a public hanging takes place. However they should use a proper hangman’s knot.”

It was too much for Ivy Bottini, who railed against the harassment at a West Hollywood City Council meeting.

Bottini told me the next day:

“I’ve been fielding phones call day from women in the community saying it’s about time somebody spoke up about how the women are being treated and attacked in this election. For 35 years, I’ve fought for gay men. Now I call upon gay men to stand with me and put women back on the council.”

Candidate John D’Amico and Mayor Pro Tem John Duran (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

I had the same experience after I appeared on Warren Olney’s “Which Way, LA?” radio show on KCRW (“A Rumble in West Hollywood).  I’ve been on the show before and the producer and Olney know me as a journalist. But they felt the need to have someone representing the six gay challengers and brought on candidate John D’Amico. I called D’Amico and gay Republican Scott Schmidt “viable candidates” (and erroneously said there were no people of color running – Mito Avilies is a candidate of color). But after I suggested that the gay men were angry over the potential loss of gay culture (though the gay bars are still packed) and the women were angry over the sexism, D’Amico, in a very patronizing manner, said I was “exaggerating” the anger. I responded by noting that the anger was also evident in publications that backed D’Amico – such as the LA Weekly and the WeHo News blog – as well as the two candidate forums.

The following day I received a call from Madeleine Rackley, a straight WeHo at-large Arts Commissioner, who heard the radio broadcast and was angry on my behalf. She told me:

“I am concerned that in this election, some of the candidates are not listening to women and not taking women seriously. It seems to me in some ways to be dividing the city.  There is a meltdown happening in the LGBT communities and between men and women. And that kind of patronizing threatening language and behavior is dividing us.”

She feels the Tom of Finland controversy “triggered something. The real issue is the perception that they are being marginalized. But it could have been anything.”

Now she asks:

“Why is there a gang of six gay men who are not listening to women? Why are we descending into uncivil speech about each other?  But there are opportunities to make it better. These are serious issues that need to be addressed – and now we can talk about them because they out in public.

The dream of living in a progressive city does not belong to one group,” telling me of a mother who moved to West Hollywood “on purpose to raise her family here because it’s a progressive city.”

Land says:

“I do think there has been sexism in this campaign and that there has been a targeting with some of the statements and some of the allegations specifically directed to the two women running. I think people should be angry at that because all of us should be fair and talking about facts and not making the kinds of comments that are being made that are sexist, offensive and belittling.”

Ruth Williams says:

“The tone is as if we are dividing the community! I was so angry [at the West Hollywood Democratic

Ruth Williams

Club meeting] because I come and work and phone bank for the city – and who the hell are these other people who show up with the attitude that they can fix all these things. All the fights we’ve won and lost – all the standards we’ve set when it comes to human rights. And they say, ‘Take Back Boystown’ as if we’re trying to destroy the gay community in West Hollywood! I’m just so upset. And when Ryan chased Lindsey around the park like that – to me, the relentless attacks are against women, more than against Lindsey. I just keep shaking my head.”

(Section deleted)

Finally, a number of people have called me complaining that they were interviewed by Patrick Range McDonald for his cover story in the LA Weekly – but received nary a mention because – they suspected – they only had positive things to say. Of course, it is the prerogative of the reporter and editor to decide who to include, exclude or edit out – though some critics think McDonald started with a preconceived premise and cut to fit. His descriptions of the women candidates are also interesting. Land is described as “a lanky, middle-aged woman with short, spiky hair, looks stunned and uncomfortable when the Weekly approaches her.” And “[a]n outspoken and sometimes combative feminist.”

And then there’s this:

“Horvath, a pixielike 20-something woman with short, blond hair, is oddly programmed and almost robotic in talk and style, her unnatural delivery and bland words sometimes coming across as if she’s carefully rehearsed the Heilman-Land message in a bedroom mirror.”

But perhaps the most disturbing image of all is the cover shot – candidate Mito Aviles, who gained international fame for hanging Republican Sarah Palin in effigy, is pictured next to two mannequins with the heads of John Heilman and Abbe Land. Upon closer inspection, it appears that there are “strings” to the elbows of each Heilman and Land – but the other “strings” are around the necks of the two incumbents. After the Sarah Palin-effigy incident, Aviles and his partner Chad Michael Morrisette gave an interview in which the paper reported that in addition to then-Mayor Jeffrey Prang, the LA County Sheriff and the Secret Service all discussing the effigy with them:

“The NAACP also sent representatives, according to Morrisette, who supported his right to showcase the effigy, but suggested he showcase it in a different way, rather than from a noose.”

If these mannequins were black, would the West Hollywood progressive or LGBT communities have sloughed off the symbolism as they have apparently done with this cover?

Unreported Prop 8 Trial Stories – Olson’s Emotion, Reaction and Political Fallout

Some terrific journalists covered the federal Prop 8 trial and have provided a nice mosaic of reporting on Wednesday’s historic closing arguments in Judge Vaughn Walker’s San Francisco courtroom. The American Foundation for Equal Rights posted the entire trial transcript on their website during which you can read how Ted Olson, arguing for plaintiffs Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami and Sandy Stier and Kris Perry, passionately summed up why same sex couples deserve marriage equality.

With hard news reporters summing up the remarkable closing arguments – I found that there were other unnoticed or underreported stories that also contribute to the record of this remarkable time, including how the elections this November could dramatically impact the outcome of the trial. The National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher told me, for instance, that she thinks Walker may rule that Prop 8 discriminates based on gender as well as sexual orientation. I was also amused to see that NOM posted video of Ted Olson’s moving answer to a question I asked at the news conference on their NOM blog.

News highlights from the closing arguments

But first for some background – may I direct your attention to a piece by the outstanding LGBT reporter Lisa Keen, who covered the entire trial. Keen, co-author with famed attorney Suzanne Goldberg of a book about the Colorado Amendment 2 case,  framed the way Prop 8 proponent Charles Cooper and plaintiffs’ attorney Ted Olson argued their closings in Prop 8 closing: Fear v. Equality.  Cooper essentially reiterated what Protect Marriage/Yes on 8 used so persuasively with voters in 2008 – that there could be “profound” changes to the institution of marriage is same sex marriage is legalized. “It could portend some social consequences that would not be good ones,” said Cooper. But no one knows so the voters of California opted not to try something so risky.

Keen notes Olson’s response, with U.S. Supreme Court citations to back him up:

“They just don’t know,” said Olson of supporters of Proposition 8. “That is the essence of their case as it comes to the end of the trial and the closing arguments. They just don’t know whether same-sex marriage will harm the institution of heterosexual marriage, and I submit the overwhelming evidence in this case proves that we do know. And the fact is allowing [same-sex marriage] will not deter heterosexuals from marrying or staying married or from having babies…[but] strengthens the institution of marriage for heterosexual and homosexual persons and their children.”

Howard Mintz from the Mercury News does a great job of summing up Walker’s discomfort with the lack of evidence Cooper presented at trial. Cooper said that procreation-based marriage is “fundamental to the survival of the human race. Without the marital relationship, society would come to an end.”  But, Walker noted, Cooper’s one witness, David Blankenhorn, didn’t testify about procreation so “What testimony in this case supports the proposition?” Cooper answered: “You don’t have to have evidence of this.”

Mintz reported how Cooper explained that the main purpose of marriage between a man and a woman

is procreation and “channeling” the sexual behavior of heterosexuals into “stable, marital unions….Procreative sexual relations both are an enormous benefit to society and represent a very real threat to society’s interest.”

Walker: “Threat?”

Cooper: “If children are born into the world without this stable, marital union … both of the parents that brought them into the world, then a host of very important, very negative social implications arise…. The purpose of marriage is to provide society’s approval to that sexual relationship and to the actual production of children.”

Walker: “But the state doesn’t withhold marriage from people who cannot have children.”

Cooper: “It does not.”

Walker: “Are you saying the state should?”

What was not so focused on in the media recounting of the arguments was Olson’s discussion of how children were used as a virtual weapon by the Yes on 8 campaign, and then abandoned at trial. Olson said:

“It is revealing, it seems to me, that the deinstitutionalization message [from Prop 8 proponent expert David Blankenhorn] is quite different from the thrust of the proponents’ Yes on 8 election campaign. That, in the words they put into the hands of all California voters, focused heavily on: Protect our children from somehow learning that gay marriage is okay. Protect our children from learning that gay marriage is okay.

Those are the words that the proponents put in the ballot — in the voter information guide that was given to every voter.

That was not a very subtle theme that there is something wrong, sinister or unusual about gays, that gays and their relationship are not okay, and decidedly not suitable for children, but that children might think it was okay if they learned about gays getting married like normal people.

For obvious reasons [the plaintiffs’ argument that Prop 8 is discriminatory and causes them harm], the “gays are not okay” message was largely abandoned during the trial in favor of the procreation and deinstitutionalization themes.”

Legal scholar Nan Hunter notes on her blog Hunter of Justice that research shows that society is increasingly moving away from child-centered marriages to adult-centered marriages.

The City of San Francisco weighs in

Chief Deputy City Attorney Terry Stewart, right, with wife Carole Scagnetti of MEUSA and daughter Natasha Paynes

One significant but somewhat overlooked exchange between Walker and Therese Stewart, the chief deputy city attorney of the city of San Francisco, which joined the plaintiffs in the case, was whether the city would forge ahead with an appeal if Walker ruled against the plaintiffs.

Stewart, whose wife and daughter were in the courtroom, argued that the city had a lot at stake since Prop 8 promotes discrimination, which in turn leads to higher health and welfare costs (from hate crimes to psychological trauma) for which the city bears the burden. Additionally, in an amusing exchange, Stewart discussed the economic impact from the loss of tourism since the city has “long been the city of love, where people leave their hearts,” referring to the famous Tony Bennett song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

Walker is expected to issue his ruling in July and whoever loses is expected to appeal. If Walker rules in favor of the plaintiffs, Cooper and Protect Marriage are expected to ask for an immediate injunction against lifting the ban on same sex marriages until the case is decided.

The complication with the Ninth Circuit

There is a popular misconception that the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is liberal. In fact, it is more of a mixed court that could consider the case in the context of national court rulings on marriage – which is not a good thing for the plaintiffs.

Consider, for instance, that the presumably liberal high court of the state of New York ruled 4-2 in July 2006 against marriage equality – based on some of the same reasons argued by Cooper. Judge Robert S. Smith wrote in his 22-page majority opinion that, “Plaintiffs have not persuaded us that this long-accepted restriction is a wholly irrational one, based solely on ignorance and prejudice against homosexuals,” a bias that is not like anti-miscegenation laws based on racism. Smith also wrote:

“Despite the advances of science, it remains true that the vast majority of children are born as a result of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman. Intuition and experience suggest that a child benefits from having before his or her eyes, every day, living models of what both a man and a woman are like.”

So while there was much giggling, laughter and eye-rolling when Cooper sputtered on about procreation – that doesn’t mean judges in the Ninth Circuit and justices at the U.S. Supreme Court might not buy what seems to Olson/Boies and most gays as an out-of-date argument. This is one of the reasons why so many LGBT legal advocates and others (John Dean, for instance) thought the federal Prop 8 constitutional challenge was “too risky” at this time.

Maggie Gallagher’s insights and NOM’s posts

The National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher, who was live-blogging during the trial – and actually got called out for putting her bare feet up on the railing – also thinks their arguments will be more persuasive to the Supreme Court than to Walker.

Exhibiting an almost embarrassed girlish sense of humor when I introduced myself, Gallagher told me:

“I have negative celebrity. Only the people who don’t like me know who I am. I think Chuck Cooper did a great job in a difficult situation. I think Judge Walker telegraphed very clearly two things: one, he believers there is a fundamental right to same sex marriage, and less clearly – but I would lay my bets that he is going to find that Prop 8 is gender discrimination, as well.  So we were not optimistic going into these arguments with this judge and I’m not particularly optimistic coming out.

We all know that this is going to end up in the Supreme Court so a lot of what happened today was aimed at Justice Kennedy, not Judge Walker.”

Protect Marriage Ron Prentice and attorney Charles Cooper

Most people watching the trial might disagree with Gallagher’s confident description of Cooper’s performance. Indeed, he seemed so distracted and flustered – at one point literally putting his hand up to his head in a reality TV version of a 1950s melodrama – that Walker asked him if he needed to take a five minute recess. But during the Protect Marriage news conference, Cooper was short, heard to hear and left after he said:

“The closing argument was extraordinary in its length and its depth. The central and overriding question – the issue before the court was before the people of California – to be decided in his courtroom by him or if an issue like this should be decided by the people themselves. Whether the judgment of the majority of Californians – some 14 million- plus making themselves heard on this issue – whether that judgment to be trumped in court. Obviously, it’s been our position from the beginning that the constitution does not require that.”

Cooper introduced Protect Marriage’s Ron Prentice and then left before any of us could say, “Huh?”

I might also note that NOM has posted the section of the news conference during which Ted Olson responded to a question I asked about why he got so passionate in presenting his closing arguments. See NOM’s blog here:

Ted Olson on getting passionate

At the first news conference in May 27, 2009 when Olson was first introduced as part of the new lead legal team, I asked him why the gay community should trust him, given his conservative credentials. At Wednesday’s news conference, I asked Olson what he was thinking when he became so passionate, so emotional at moments during his closing – was he experiencing the burden of trust not only the plaintiffs but the gay community had placed in him?

Olson said:

“You sensed how emotional I felt and passion is a good word for how I felt throughout this trial. There may have been a couple of moments in there where I had more emotion running through my mind and body than another but I felt that way all day. I felt that about this case and I do think all the time of Jeff and Paul and Sandy and Kris – what they’ve said in their testimony, what their family relationship is and part of their family was there today. And I need to be able to convey that emotion as well as those facts to the law, to the judge. That is our job – to try to give life to the arguments our clients could make if they could make them, if they were lawyers.

But more than that because I’m somewhat separate – I need to be able to feel it in order to be able to say it as passionately as I can. You don’t want to be maudlin or anything like that – in a trial. This is partially a very academic exercise – we’re talking about the law.

But we’re talking about human lives here and discrimination. I think about the history of discrimination in this country. And it’s important to understand this discrimination in the context of that discrimination, historically. It’s different each time but it’s still same – excluding people on the wrong basis. So I was trying to convey that.”

(See separate story for an interview Ted Johnson and I did with David Boies on this, to be posted Saturday.)


Afterwards, I asked Marriage Equality USA’s Molly McKay if Olson had earned and won that trust. She said:

“He was awesome. It was fantastic. He truly put this case and framed it exactly in the American civil historical context. I can’t imagine a better and more articulated argument. It reminded me of the hero we found in [San Francisco Mayor] Gavin Newsom when, after 32 days in office – we didn’t know who he was – he stood up for us like the big brother we always wished we had and allowed us to get married. And today, Ted Olson is that same straight ally hero.

He absolutely earned that trust and I think it also shows a lesson to the gay community that we need to be open as to who our allies are in the world and that we really need to not be limiting at all – because we have allies everywhere – really powerful people ready to help us. We don’t have to do this by ourselves, nor should we. This is an American moment. This is our generation’s opportunity to participate in the moving forward of our civil rights history. And look at that – on the opposite aisle of the political spectrum together for the American principle of equality.”

Lance Black and Cleve Jones

Cleve Jones, who is on the AFER board, said:

“I was very moved and I was kind of surprised at what a poor job our opponents did. The message to the community needs to be right now that this case moving forward to the U.S. Supreme Court is the single most important thing we are doing. And in my opinion, everybody should drop everything else to get behind AFER and raise the money necessary to move this forward.

There is no better opportunity for our people to advance. It’s a real challenge for us because we are not known for our attention span, nor are we known for our solidarity or discipline. And we need that. We need to pay attention. And it will be a challenge because we have many months now to wait – potentially a couple of years as it winds its way to the Supreme Court. I believe that decision will change everything for LGBT America forever.”

Dustin Lance Black, who is also on the AFER board, had this moving reaction:

“What was so important for me today – something that Cleve and I have been fighting about for a long time and I made a promise on a very big stage about a year and a half ago at the Oscars that kids out there would one day soon be able to enjoy their federal equality. And it was amazing today to hear those federal constitutional arguments being made for the first time regarding relationship recognitions. It feels like the first piece of that promise was fulfilled – regardless of outcome – the first piece of that promise was fulfilled.”

The Political Context

Barely mentioned in coverage of the closing arguments was the extremely important political context in which these arguments are being decided.

This November, Attorney General Jerry Brown – who refused to defend Prop 8 in court because he believes it’s unconstitutional – is running for governor. It is likely that if elected, he will continue to refuse to defend Prop 8 in court – just as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has done. However, if Brown’s Republican challenger Meg Whitman is elected, the case might change. Whitman voted for Prop 8 and will likely order that it be defended in the Ninth Circuit, joining Cooper and the Protect Marriage group.

Additionally – San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, who is running to be Attorney General – says that she, like Brown, would refuse to defend Prop 8 in court. However, her opponent, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley said he would defend Prop 8 in court.

One other note about the Attorney General’s race: the AG is responsible for writing the ballot title and summary. Brown chose not to accept wording submitted by Protect Marriage for the Prop 8 initiative, for instance, and titled it: “Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.” If the Ninth Circuit rules next year and if the U.S. Supreme Court accepts the case and issues its ruling in 2012 – that could be at the same time as a proposed repeal Prop 8 goes on the California ballot for that election year. The high court could either decide narrowly on the constitutionality of Prop 8 in California or it could rule – either way – on the fundamental right of same-sex couples to marry.

NOM is already gearing up for the election fight in November. It is imperative that those working for marriage equality and to defeat Prop 8 get into gear, too.