Just over a month before the city’s annual Rainbow Key awards are handed out, the prestigious awards for LGBT activists came under scrutiny Monday night as the West Hollywood City Council questioned the process of selecting the recipients.
The council did not have any problems with the seven people recommended by the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board (LGAB). However, council members took issue with the fact only two of the seven honorees were West Hollywood residents, and wondered why only older activists were being honored.
“I am questioning the looking-back nature of the list,” said Councilmember John D’Amico “There are not any future-thinking people on the list.”
“West Hollywood is both a city and also a state of mind,” said Councilmember John Duran. “We have 37,000 who call this home, but we know we’re also home to hundreds of thousands of others who identify with the sacred space that West Hollywood is. It is incumbent upon us to sort of balance those two populations.”
This year’s Rainbow Key Award recipients are transgender activist Chaz Bono, author/activist Felice Picano, LGBT activist Torie Osborn, transgender activist Drian Juarez, LGBT historian/author Stuart Timmons and Virginia Uribe and Gail Rolf who work with Project 10, which supports LGBT youth in schools. Only Bono and Picano live in West Hollywood.
The ceremony is Tuesday, June 11 in the City Council chamber in the West Hollywood Library. That ceremony will be held as part of a fundraiser for the Lavender Effect, a non-profit seeking to create an LGBTQ museum and cultural center in the city.
Jeff Book, the staff liaison to LGAB, said that this year’s recipients just happened to be people who have had long careers of activism. The recipients are also based on who is available to be at the ceremony, he said.
The council instructed LGAB to come up with specific criteria for determining future recipients and to find ways to better promote the nomination process.
D’Amico even went as far as to request that the LGAB nominating subcommittee meet again and report back at the May 20 Council meeting with suggestions for younger residents worthy of the award. However, the other council members disagreed, saying it is too close to the ceremony to add recipients and criteria hasn’t been established.
Since 1993, the city has been giving out the awards to people and organizations that have made “significant contributions” to the LGBT community. Past recipients have included LGBT rights attorney Diane Abbitt, Abbey founder David Cooley, transgender attorney Mia Yamamoto, longtime LGBT journalist Karen Ocamb and the June Mazer Lesbian Archives.
For many years, the council handed out Rainbow Key awards individually during council meetings throughout the year. In 2007, the council started presenting the awards at a large June ceremony. That ceremony – originally a lavish luncheon, later a splashy evening reception – was criticized by residents for being too expensive (an estimated $10,000 one year) and honoring too many people (15 people were honored one year).
At the request of the council, the ceremony has been scaled down. This year’s ceremony is budgeted at $2,500, according to Elizabeth Savage, the city’s director of human services, which oversees LGAB.
“The awards have evolved over the years and will continue to evolve,” said Savage.