He has served on the majority openly gay City Council since West Hollywood was incorporated in 1984. You could call him a founder. Well, in fact, he is.
Mayor John Heilman is one of the longest-serving openly gay elected officials in the U.S, having previously served as mayor in 1990, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2006 and 2010.
He still has a forward-looking vision for the city he loves.
Heilman wants to combat poverty (15% of the city’s population, about 5,400 people, live below the poverty level), overhaul parking in residential areas, build a new fire station, a new sheriff’s station, a new City Hall building, and continue his fight against conservative policies initiated in Washington, D.C., that impact the LGBTQ community in West Hollywood.
He is a native of Cleveland, a graduate of Northwestern University and University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. He earned a master’s in Public Administration and in Real Estate Development from the Price School of Public Policy at USC. He teaches law at Southwestern Law School and USC’s school of law.
Heilman established the city’s rent stabilization rules and is nationally recognized for his longtime efforts on behalf of people with HIV and AIDS.
“When we started the City of West Hollywood, some people said that a city built on rent control, and populated by gays and lesbians, seniors and immigrants would never survive. These critics said that businesses would not want to locate in our city and eventually we would be bankrupt. We proved these naysayers were wrong,” Heilman recently wrote on his website.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’m not sure I was ever in. I didn’t really have to tell many people because apparently everyone knew before I did.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
It’s a tie between Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King.
What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?
I loved dancing at Studio One, which later became the Factory. The Odyssey was also lots of fun but it was a nightmare for the neighbors. It was an after-hours club that played great music.
Describe your dream wedding.
I’ve had the opportunity to officiate at a lot of weddings. My dream wedding would be one where I’m one of the grooms and not an officiant or bridesmaid!
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Human rights in general, especially equality for women and girls. We also need to focus more attention on international human rights for the LGBT community. That’s one of the reasons I recently joined the board of OutRight International, a group that works on advocacy for the international LGBTQI communities. I’m also passionate about the need for affordable housing.
What historical outcome would you change?
Trump’s election, but maybe that’s still too current and painfully real to be considered a historical outcome. As for less recent history, there were a lot of people who tried to stop the Nazis before they came to power.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
One of the most memorable moments was when Ellen DeGeneres came out on her sitcom. One of my personal biggest moments was being back stage when Elton John and Lady Gaga performed on the Sunset Strip. When I show my law students a picture, they think I’m a rock star.
On what do you insist?
I’m really pretty laid back but I stay away from people who are angry and negative.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
Congratulations to Roger Federer and Garbine Muguruza for winning Wimbledon this year. I’m crazy about tennis. I always root for Roger because he’s graceful and always so gracious. I was also rooting for Venus Williams because she’s amazing and she doesn’t really get credit for her advocacy for equal prize money for women.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“John Heilman—the Biography.” I’m pretty literal sometimes.
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I’d want to remain gay, but with less emphasis on the orientation and more emphasis on the sexual. I have no game.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I think love transcends the physical world.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Don’t fight with one another. Focus on our real enemies. Don’t give up hope. And always celebrate the progress we have made. In some ways, we’ve already won. Younger people, regardless of their political or religious background, support equality for LGBT people.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
The City of West Hollywood. I love the City and want to make sure it continues to be successful.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
All stereotypes annoy me. LGBT people get stereotyped, but as LGBT people we do it too. Sometimes it’s relatively harmless, but in can cause real problems. We stereotype each other and we stereotype non-LGBT people all the time. You can look at some of the dating apps and you’re sure to see people describe themselves as straight-acting which suggests that all straight people act a certain way and all gay people act a different way. It’s pretty silly. Stereotyping just holds all of us back.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
The idea that you have to dance with another person. If I’m at a club and I hear a song I like and there isn’t anyone around who wants to dance, I go out on the dance floor and start dancing. People sometimes look at me like I’m strange for dancing by myself, but I’m fine with that.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
The most important prize in the world in my mind is the Nobel Peace Prize. The global LGBT rights movement should receive it for all that has been accomplished in the last 50 years.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
I was the first person in my family to go to college. And the first to go to graduate school. There are so many opportunities that I wasn’t aware of until later in life. I never really traveled outside of the country until I was in my late 40s. I wish I had some of that knowledge and some of those experiences earlier in my life.
Why Los Angeles?
I came out here to go to law school and never left, but I sometimes wonder why I live in Southern California. I don’t really like the sun and the heat. My ideal climate is cool and rainy. Also, I don’t live in Los Angeles. I live in West Hollywood. Los Angeles is a great city, but West Hollywood plays a unique role for LGBT people. West Hollywood is a very special place.