City Councilmember John Duran’s criticism of the painting of an image of the transgender flag in the intersection of Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards has led to a call for his resignation by transgender activists.
“John Duran, we have learned that you are not a champion of transgender causes and are willing to silence the trans community even during Pride month. You are a reminder of how cancerous government officials can be, and John Duran, you are a cancer to the West Hollywood community,” said a statement from the Unique Woman’s Coalition, a non-profit organized in 1997 that supports transgender women of color. The statement was distributed Saturday by Chela Demuir, president and executive director of UWC and also the national vice president of FLUX, a division of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation that supports transgender and gender non-conforming people.
The call for Duran’s resignation is the latest in a number of public disputes between members of the Black and white LGBTQ communities. They began when Black activists objected to plans by Christopher Street West, the producer of the annual LA Pride parade and festival, to stage a “solidarity march” in support of those protesting the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer. Those activists called out CSW for not engaging Black community leaders in the planning. In response, CSW cancelled its protest and the All Black Lives Matter event took place on June 14. Then, in two recent virtual forums, Black community leaders such as Jewel Thais-Williams, Jasmyne Cannick, and Marquita Thomas, who are lesbians, questioned the acceptance of Black people by white residents of West Hollywood, a city where 33% of the population consists of gay men and where only 4% of the residents are Black.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Duran had objected that people had painted the blue, pink, and white trans flag image in the intersection without seeking the city’s permission. The image was painted at night on June 13 ahead of the next day’s All Black Lives Matter protest in which an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people marched down Santa Monica Boulevard to protest police brutality. Duran later learned that members of city boards and commissions had participated in the painting and that Mayor Lindsey Horvath and law enforcement officers had been present while it was being done. Councilmember Lauren Meister also objected to the fact that the painting had been done without seeking permission from the city.
“There is a reason that law enforcement and government officials have to remain neutral on free speech,” Duran said in a text message to WEHOville about the flag painting. “For example, if this sets a precedent and a group wants to paint a Confederate flag on Santa Monica Boulevard, we can’t say ‘oh we agree with trans rights so that unauthorized mural can stay, but your Confederate flag has to go.’ Now we are regulating content. And the government cannot regulate free speech — whether it’s law enforcement or city government. “
It its statement, the UWC said: ” The painting of the trans flag was a statement to highlight the disproportionate statistics of trans murders and violence across the world and in support of inclusion for the All Black Lives Matter March in the cities of Hollywood and West Hollywood on Sunday, June 14th, 2020.
“We are compelled to remind you of the Stonewall uprising. It was a Black transgender woman who threw the first brick 50 years ago as we observe this pivotal anniversary this year. History observes this as the galvanizing act of what we know today as the Gay Liberation Movement. The Stonewall riots made it possible for the City of West Hollywood and other LGBTQ+ cities like it to be what they are today. You may be disconnected from this reality; however, that reality is history—our history, your history.
“And because of that, we will hold you accountable to our foremothers and forefathers whose sacrifices you benefit from today.”
The statement claimed that “trans people are attacked and face discrimination while in West Hollywood,” that transgender people “are tokenized during Pride month for entertainment purposes,” and that the city’s Transgender Advisory Council doesn’t fully represent the transgender community.
Transgender people have complained of discrimination in West Hollywood in the past. Ashlee-Marie Preston, a prominent member of the transgender community, said that employees of Catch, the upscale restaurant atop the building on the northwest corner of San Vicente Boulevard and Melrose Avenue, treated her poorly because she was a transgender woman. Shayan Siren, a West Hollywood resident who is a Black transgender woman, posted a story on Facebook several years ago about being denied entrance to 1 Oak, the club on Sunset Boulevard, and to the Hyde on Sunset restaurant and lounge because of her race and her transgender status.
In its statement, the UWC also said that Duran’s mention of the Confederate flag in his criticism of the painting without a permit of the transgender flag, “speaks to your tone-deafness to LGBTQ+ issues at large…”
In its demand that Duran resign, UWC also noted Duran’s stepping down from the position of mayor in 2019 when his fellow Council members passed a resolution censuring him in response to comments he had made on radio about their sex lives, disparaging comments he had made about a gay Asian man because of his ethnicity, and allegations that he had made unwanted sexual advances on young members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, which Duran then chaired. UWC also noted that the City of West Hollywood had paid $500,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Duran’s City Hall deputy accusing him of inappropriate behavior and that he had supported and taken campaign contributions from Ed Buck, the gay white man now in federal prison awaiting trial on charges related to the deaths of two black men of drug overdose in his Laurel Avenue apartment.
Duran is up for re-election to the City Council on Nov. 3.