[dropcap]I [/dropcap]wouldn’t normally comment on a topic like this. Usually I stay away from West Hollywood politics altogether because I think it tends to be kind of childish and petty. I have been disillusioned for a long time now about the current slate of City Council members; John Heilman and Abbe Land because of their ties to big business and efforts to gentrify and “de-gay” West Hollywood, and Jeffrey Prang, John Duran and John D’Amico because of conduct that I believe is completely unbecoming of a government official. I won’t go into the details, as that would be boring and pointless, but it suffices to say that I haven’t been happy with any of them for quite awhile.
A recent decision of the council, however, has angered me so much that I feel compelled to write about it. Last week it was announced, after a unanimous vote by the City Council, that the rainbow flag that has flown above City Hall since June of last year (when it was raised for Gay Pride Month) would be taken down. The reasoning? Councilmember Duran was quoted as saying that the flag was exclusionist towards straight people, that keeping the flag up would “give the impression that City Hall has become exclusive to only one part of the West Hollywood community.”
When I read Duran’s quote, I couldn’t have been more appalled. This coming from a man who has won his council seat numerous times primarily because of his support from the LGBT community. Now that he’s running for a county supervisor seat, however, and has to appeal to a primarily straight electorate, he turns his back on the gay community and gay movement he has fought for over the last 30 years. It’s incredible. But what is even more laughable and dumbfounding for me is the rationale that Duran uses to try and justify his decision.
His argument is that putting the rainbow flag on City Hall makes straight people feel uncomfortable. Well, first of all, not a single straight person has come forward to make that complaint, so where is the City Council getting that concern from? Why are they acting to assuage the feelings of uncomfortable WeHo residents who don’t exist? That’s the first bizarre aspect of it, which makes me think that this whole thing has more to do with assuaging the big businesses on the Sunset Strip who want to “de-gay” West Hollywood to make their straight customers, who don’t live in West Hollywood, feel less weird about coming into a gay city.
Which brings me to my second point: WEST HOLLYWOOD IS AN OFFICIALLY GAY CITY. As weird as that sounds, it’s true: West Hollywood, back when it was created as a city in 1984, was officially designated as the first gay city in America, and it remains the only one today. It was created primarily for the purpose of creating a positive, accepting environment for gay people who had nowhere else to go; it was a sanctuary, a safe haven. Whether you like it or not, that’s the way it’s always been; it’s not just a gay city on Santa Monica Boulevard, it’s a gay city on Sunset as well. Which makes it particularly offensive and disturbing that the city government has tried, more and more over the years, to lessen the gay influence in the city and quarantine it to a small area of Santa Monica Boulevard known as “Boystown.”
It began with the city’s renovation of the streets around Santa Monica Boulevard in 2001. When they renovated it, they were going to remove the rainbow flags that lined the street there entirely, but John Duran, ironically enough, was able to save four of them. Four was less, however, than they had before, and those four flags are now the only gay flags that are displayed in the entire city, all relegated to one small area so as not to offend people in the other areas of the city that aren’t quite as gay (let’s not forget that this ENTIRE town is a gay village, not just one part of it).
Then came the election of John D’Amico in 2011, who promised to come into office and reinforce the gay identity of West Hollywood. He may have been done that, but not in the ways that we anticipated. Instead of fighting to put more rainbow flags up, for example, or to implement gay history programs or stuff that is actually valuable and meaningful to the community, he wasted his time creating a “Go Go Boy Appreciation Day” and appointing a … vicious gossip blogger to an influential advisory board post. Because those are actions that are becoming of a government official, right?
So those factors, along with a lot of other things, led to the situation today where we basically have nobody on the council who represents our values. Larry Block, a local businessman, petitioned to have a gay flag put up back in June 2013 in order to celebrate Gay Pride Month in the city. They put it up, and now they’ve decided that they want to take it down. Another one of their excuses is that it was only meant to be temporary, that it was only put up less than a year ago, so to say that they are taking down something that is part of West Hollywood history or that has been there for a long time is simply not true.
Yes, that may not be true. But we need that rainbow flag there now more than ever. It is sorely needed at a time when our city is losing its gay identity; I’m all for assimilation and inclusion, but not at the expense of our culture and heritage. I know plenty of straight people who have come forward and said that this is ridiculous, that the rainbow flag in no way makes them feel excluded or unwelcome. To the contrary: the rainbow flag represents inclusion, it represents EVERYONE. And that is what is so disappointing about this decision, that the council failed to see that. It’s so obvious as far as I’m concerned.
West Hollywood has become one of the most prominent cities in the state, and in the country really. And it has done that mainly based on its reputation as a gay city, as a place where gay people come for support and to celebrate who they are. It has been that way for three decades. To downplay that now would be a huge mistake, and would take away the main thing that distinguishes West Hollywood from everywhere else. The City Council has basically declared in this decision that we live in a post-gay era, that there is no longer a reason to fight for gay rights or to re-assert our gay identity because the battle has already been won, because there’s no longer gay discrimination and that we can all afford to forget our roots and become apathetic and complacent about the struggle for our civil rights.
But the truth is that the battle is far from over. There is much more work to do. There is no room for apathy or complacency. We need to continue leading the charge, and we can’t do it if West Hollywood isn’t there on the forefront with us. Because if we don’t have West Hollywood to come home to, the one city that has always been with us, then what do we have?
James Duke Mason, 23 and a West Hollywood resident, is an actor who also is an advocate for the LGBT community. Since January 2012 he has served as a member of the board of OUTFEST — the youngest person appointed in the organization’s 30-year history. In 2011, Out magazine named him to its “Out 100″ list of prominent LGBT figures. In 2010 the Advocate named Mason to its “Forty Under 40″ list of influential LGBT young people. Mason has worked on behalf of various political candidates, including Hillary Clinton in 2008 and as an official campaign surrogate for Barack Obama in 2012. His first film, “What Happens Next,” was released in 2012, and he will next star in the film “Jack & Lem,” which will begin shooting later this year. Mason is the son of Go-Go’s lead singer Belinda Carlisle and producer Morgan Mason and the grandson of the late British actor James Mason. This opinion column is adapted from his blog, The Daily Duke (http://www.daily-duke.com/), on which it first appeared.