By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
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By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Assimilation comes with risks, says political activist Ivy Bottini, who co-chairs the West Hollywood gay and lesbian advisory board. “I personally think our community is rushing, can’t get there fast enough, to be part of that culture out there. When any smaller group than the dominant culture assimilates, that’s what their culture becomes. Assimilation is not the best thing. I compare assimilation to going back into the closet.”
But not every leather daddy or drag queen out there who doesn’t care about gay marriage has something to gain from specific political agendas. “It’s the ‘gay liberation’ concept versus the politics of equality,” says Cecilia V. Estolano, an openly lesbian special assistant attorney at City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s office. “Are we really talking about fundamentally transforming how American society sees sexuality, is that the movement? Or is the movement to make gays and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people have the same rights in straight society without fundamentally transforming society? I think we’re doing both, and what the gay-marriage movement is about is both. So I guess for myself, it is of personal interest for me to see us succeed on the marriage front, but I can also say objectively it’s important for the movement, because that is one way to get acknowledged rights we can translate into other areas.”
If a politician like Mike Bonin lived in San Diego or San Francisco, he could have moved to the “gay ghetto” neighborhoods of Hillcrest or the Castro, which grew up around businesses and social services that cater to gays and lesbians. In Los Angeles, however, the most recognizable gay ghetto, West Hollywood, is its own municipality, where big gay political fishes swim in a small pond. “There’s not a significant concentration of gays and lesbians anywhere in the city of Los Angeles, even if theoretically you wanted a safe gay and lesbian district,” Bonin said.
Bonin is among several out City Hall insiders who say the city’s LGBT community can still get their issues addressed, especially since so many politicians have gay staffers to turn to when they have questions. Carmel Sella, deputy mayor for intergovernmental relations, points out that in 2002 when District Attorney Steve Cooley decided not to file hate-crimes charges against suspects in the attack on West Hollywood resident Trev Broudy, numerous L.A. city officials, including Hahn, spoke out against the decision, in lockstep with the West Hollywood City Council. “There is no geographical center, and there is not necessarily a political center for the community, but rather significant pockets of leadership that amount to a very powerful community,” Sella said.
L.A.’s Equal Benefits Ordinance (EBO) is an example of how mainstream some LGBT issues are despite the fact that no openly elected politicians shepherd them through the system. It is also a testament to a clutch of influential out City Hall staffers who serve virtually every elected official. The EBO requires contractors that provide services to the city to offer their employees the same benefits afforded to city employees, including same-sex domestic-partnership health ‰ coverage. Last winter, Delgadillo and Goldberg’s successor, Eric Garcetti, worked together to expand the city EBO to cover competitive bids, which was passed unanimously by the City Council and signed by Mayor Hahn with no debate. “There’s nothing shocking about it,” said Cecilia Estolano. “There’s nothing that raises eyebrows.”
Dean Hansell, a former police commissioner who currently serves on the city’s Information Technology Commission, is one of Los Angeles’ well-known openly gay leaders. He pointed out that the T in the “LGBT” is still a political problem since the issue of gender identity is so misunderstood. The transgendered, which make up a growing and increasingly visible part of the city population, have begun to organize themselves and have become involved in issues as varied as public safety and community health. “I think it’s an issue that when the subject gets raised, people move on to the next subject,” Hansell said, noting that there are no recognizable political figures in the city who identify as transgendered. Despite the acceptance of gay candidates, the blasé attitude most Angelenos would take toward an openly lesbian mayoral candidate would be different toward a transgendered female candidate who also identifies as a lesbian. “I think that would take a great getting used to on the part of people in order to have that happen,” Hansell said. “That is going to be a big education process that would take place, and the first place you’d have to start that education process is in the gay and lesbian community itself.”
It’s long been an open secret that the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities have had an unease about their transgendered brethren, with concerns of confused messages and charges of marginalizing the most marginalized. “Some people just don’t believe the transgenders are part of our movement, and you can argue it both ways,” explained Ivy Bottini, who helped get West Hollywood’s transgendered task force off the ground. “If you’re a transgendered and you are now female and you end up getting married to a male, are you gay and lesbian? There are very, very convoluted issues, and there are no simple answers.”