The year 2017 will go down as a watershed in human history with the apparent breaking apart of traditional European alliances, the rise of Russia, China and the nuclear threat of North Korea, as well as the resurgence of white identity populism, best signified by the disruptive presidency of Donald Trump. California became a bulwark for progressive values with the Los Angeles LGBT community reflecting both the ills of the larger society and serving as a bright beacon of hope. Here are our staff picks for the top 10 LA LGBT stories of the year.
10. LGBT AIDS invisibility
Donald Trump, whose mentor and attorney Roy Cohn died from AIDS, signed his first World AIDS Day Proclamation and failed to mention the LGBT community. Out scholar Masha Gessen compared it to Trump’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement in which he neglected to mention Jews. The Centers for Disease Control reports that gay and bisexual men account for an estimated 70 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S.; an estimated 22 percent of transgender women have HIV. While Trump stated his commitment to ending the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, he’s threatened to cut the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) budget by $1 billion. Meanwhile in LA, AIDS Healthcare Foundation celebrated its 30th anniversary with a free concert for staff, board and volunteers at The Shrine Auditorium, featuring singer Mariah Carey. AHF now has 841,293 patients in care in 39 countries and provided generators, not paper towels, to devastated Puerto Rico.
9. Hollywood’s diversity problem
Feb. 26, 2017. Gasp! Oscar presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway accidentally name La La Land as best picture. “There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best picture. This is not a joke,” said La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz, beckoning the stunned winners onstage. “One of the things that I hope doesn’t get overshadowed is this was a $1.5 million indie film about a black, gay, poor man … and that’s a very significant thing,” director Ava DuVernay said later. “I’m proud of the Academy for honoring that.” Indeed, Hollywood applauded at the Oscars. But Moonlight was the only film in 2016 with a gay protagonist. An August 2017 USC-commissioned report analyzed the top 100 films of 2016 and found that only 1.1 percent of speaking characters were LGB with no trans speaking characters. Advocacy has been unsuccessful, concluded study author Professor Stacy L Smith. “Film paints a distressing portrait of exclusion.”
8. The death of Gemmel Moore
Gemmel Moore died on July 27 in the West Hollywood apartment of Stonewall Democratic Club donor/activist Ed Buck. The LA County coroner ruled Moore’s death an accidental overdose from crystal meth, prompting concerns about the silent meth crisis among black gay men. The Sheriff’s Department conducted an initial investigation and learned that Moore, a 26-year old escort, frequently visited Buck, 62. But local black activists and Moore’s mother were not satisfied with the findings and agitated for the Sheriff to investigate whether Buck, who is white, might have a sexual fetish: injecting young black escorts with drugs—raising the question of murder. Buck’s attorney vigorously denied their allegation, but Sheriff Jim McDonnell ordered Homicide detectives to reopen the investigation. “We felt it was our obligation to look into those issues,” McDonnell told the LA Blade. As of mid-December no new report was made public.
7. The murder of 8-year old Gabriel Fernandez
The torture-murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez was so disturbing, LA County was forced to reform its child-welfare system. “When paramedics arrived at the boy’s Palmdale home on May 22, 2013, Gabriel was unconscious and had a cracked skull, broken ribs, burned and bruised skin, missing teeth and BB pellets lodged in his groin. He died two days later after being removed from life support,” the LA Times reported. Months before his death, Gabriel was forced to eat cat feces and his own vomit. He slept in a small cabinet, his ankles handcuffed, hands bound and mouth gagged with a sock. On Nov. 15, Isauro Aguirre, 37, was convicted of first-degree murder for killing his girlfriend’s son, who he thought was gay. Jurors gave Aguirre the death penalty; he will be sentenced March 8. Gabriel’s mother and the negligent social workers still face trial.
6. The plight of LGBT DREAMers
Donald Trump ran for president on a platform of hatred for immigrants. Building “the wall” and deporting anyone who is undocumented is a base rallying cry. But Democrats and some Republicans in Congress want to pass the DREAM Act of 2017 (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) to prevent undocumented young people, including LGBT youth, from being deported to countries where their lives are at risk from governmental and cultural homophobia and transphobia. A large percentage of LGBT DREAMers (28%) live in California and more than 75,000 young people identify as LGBT in Los Angeles—with nearly half of them actively participating in the upended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA. “Deportation is comparable to a death sentence for LGBTQ people in many parts of the world,” says Dave Garcia, LA LGBT Center Director of Policy and Community Building.
5. California Democratic Party run by gays
The Republican Party is now stained by white supremacy and its leader is perhaps beholden to the Russians. Aghast, Democrats want to break the conservative Republicans’ one-party rule by winning back the House in the 2018 midterm elections, with help from the California Democratic Party. At least six vulnerable GOP incumbents are up for reelection, including longtime anti-LGBT legislators Darrell Issa and Dana Rohrabacher. Leading the charge into electoral battle are Eric Bauman, the out chair of the CDP and Mark Gonzalez, the out chair of the LA County Democratic Party, both of whom have track records with electoral experience. Add to the leadership mix kickass Toni Atkins of San Diego, the first lesbian Assembly Speaker, who will become the first lesbian/woman President Pro Tem of the Senate next year. Get ready to rumble.
4. Calif. groups oppose trans military ban
President Trump’s July 26 tweet announced that his administration “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” The major policy shift was orchestrated by Vice President Pence with help from Family Research Council head Tony Perkins. Four lawsuits were quickly filed to stop the proposed ban from taking effect and to challenge its constitutionality. On Dec. 11, a federal judge in Washington State became the third court to rule the ban unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction, allowing trans service members to continue serving with admission of trans enlistees starting Jan. 1.The fourth lawsuit filed by Equality California, with the State of California as a plaintiff, is pending before a federal court in California—which has the most active duty and reserve military than any other state. “Marginalizing transgender service members or any transgender American who wishes to serve our country faithfully and courageously will not occur on our watch,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
3. Transgender electoral wins
The battle for transgender civil rights was difficult in 2017— marked by an uptick in hate crimes against trans people — 31 reported in Los Angeles (30 were violent), a 72 percent increase from 2016 with the majority, 69 percent, against trans Latinas. But an unprecedented political outpouring yielded positive results: eight trans candidates won their elections around the country. Danica Roem’s election to the Virginia House of Delegates will make her the first openly transgender woman seated in legislative office; Minneapolis elected two trans people of color—Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham—to their city council; Stephe Koontz, Raven Matherne, Tyler Titus, and Gerri Cannon also won their local elections. And in Palm Springs, Lisa Middleton, a lesbian, became the first transgender person elected to a non-judicial office in California. Her victory, with bisexual Christy Holstege, makes the Palm Springs City Council the first American city government with an all LGBT council.
Talk about taking back offensive words — the pink “pussy” hat, created by two LA-area-based women artists, was ubiquitous at the massive Women’s March, the day after Donald Trump’s ugly and sparsely attended inauguration. A multi-pronged grassroots resistance movement sprung up to protest Trump, his GOP cronies, and the white nationalist/supremacist ideas they stand for. Resistance morphed into action, exquisitely symbolized by the defeat of Trump/Steve Bannon Alabama candidate, accused pedophile Judge Roy Moore. Locally, resistance took the form of a refutation of CSW’s tone-deaf approach to transgender issues. The #ResistMarch, created by Brian Pendleton, started at Hollywood and Highland, invited everyone to join, and culminated in West Hollywood with lesbian Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Russia-investigation-hero Rep. Adam Schiff and impeachment-calling Rep. Maxine Waters underscoring how much is at stake with a Trump presidency. LA LGBT felt the #Resist!
1. A tipping point on sexual harassment
“Casting couch” allegations leveled against Hollywood heavyweights Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein scorched the traditional assumption that men have the innate right to sexually exploit women, which women endured to get or keep their jobs. While equally upset over the power dynamics of the economics of “consent,” the gay community grappled with more nuanced issues after gay actor Anthony Rapp revealed that closeted gay actor Kevin Spacey, then 26, tried to “seduce” him when Rapp was 14 years old. Old Gay Sexual Liberation assumptions were shaken: not all gay teens welcome sex with an older man as a rite of passage and groping is not equivalent to a handshake. What had been routinely dismissed as a gay bitchy grievance is now part of a movement for respect, boundaries, consideration and human dignity.