In a series of social media posts Tuesday, Feb. 12, three of West Hollywood’s five city council members, Lindsey Horvath, Lauren Meister and John D’Amico demanded that John Duran, their fellow councilmember and the city’s mayor resign over unsubstantiated allegations of sexual harassment.
The controversy was originally ignited by an allegation made against Duran by a man the Los Angeles Times identified as Jason Tong, a young member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.
Tong alleged that Duran inappropriately pushed his fingers into the waistband of Tong’s underwear last October as they were dressing for a joint concert with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Mexico City at the chorus’ performance home at the Alex Theatre in Glendale to launch its 40th anniversary.
The Chorus board ordered an independent investigation during which Duran said he did not know Tong or do what Tong alleged, which would have had to have happened 15 minutes to curtain in a crowded changing room.
Duran provided the investigator with the names of five witnesses who confirmed Duran’s story.
Tong could not provide witnesses, withdrew his complaint, and subsequently resigned.
While many construed Tong’s withdrawal as evidence that the allegation was untrue, others sympathized and believe he relented in the face of Duran’s powerful position as Mayor of West Hollywood.
The LA Times also reported that two more people had come forward—but neither of them has yet filed a complaint with the GMCLA board or HR or gone through any of the procedures outlined to the membership.
After the investigator’s report was filed, the GMCLA board took no action, which they would be obliged to do, upholding their fiduciary responsibility to avoid a lawsuit.
According to Joshua Schare, the Media Affairs and Marketing Manager for the City of West Hollywood, Duran’s participation in GMCLA is completely unrelated to his council duties and his official functions as mayor.
The call for Duran’s resignation came after Robert Oliver, vice chair of the city’s Public Safety Commission, protested his fellow commissioners’ silence over the growing controversy by submitting his own resignation on Feb. 11.
Horvath, Meister and D’Amico—who are all incumbents seeking re-election—seemed to suggest that the allegations against Duran alone were sufficient reason to call for him to resign.
“I continue to condemn sexual assault and harassment in all its forms and understand the importance of creating a safe environment in West Hollywood for residents, staff, appointed officials and visitors, regardless of gender and sexual orientation,” D’Amico wrote.
“Recent allegations regarding John Duran are dividing us and our attention, moving the city away from the important work we do,” he added. “To get our city back on track John Duran needs to step away from being Mayor immediately and consult his conscience about what happens next.”
“West Hollywood as a city is suffering as a result of the numerous and repeated allegations against Mayor Duran,” Meister wrote. “I believe that Mayor Duran should do what’s best for the city — in this case, it would be to step down from the position of mayor, and perhaps, step away from the council position so that he can focus on these issues and the city can focus on moving forward.”
“First and most importantly, I condemn in the strongest terms sexual harassment and assault in all its forms,” Horvath wrote. “Throughout this time, I have been in close contact with our City Manager and City Attorney, as well as my colleagues. Last night, I also spent time talking with former Commissioner Robert Oliver, who spoke out at last night’s Public Safety Commission meeting, as well as other long-time members of our community.
“It is for this reason that I believe it is time for our Mayor to step away from his role on the Council,” she continued. “Our City cannot focus on the work of the people when we have to address new and numerous allegations of sexual misconduct, including whether our Mayor used his title to solicit sexual favors.”
None of the WeHo city councilmembers could be reached for comment, including Duran and John Heilman, the only council member who has not publicly addressed the allegations.
WeHo City Attorney Mike Jenkins told the Los Angeles Blade that California law does not give a city council the ability to remove one of its members. Jenkins appeared to appreciate the idea of him conferring with the GMCLA’s counsel to allow him to review the findings of the independent investigator in the Human Resources report to see if he concurred with the board’s assessment that the allegation against Duran was without merit.
Meanwhile, some longtime activists are emerging to question the apparent rush to judgment.
“In addition to the erosion of reverence for due-processes, other liberal, western democratic principles ignored by Duran’s enemies and the Council candidates are ‘shadow of doubt’ and ‘habeas corpus,’” says a nationally prominent civil rights attorney on condition of anonymity. “I’m not sure it’s good for the world to chuck these out the window because someone felt embarrassed by an older man’s attention.”
Another credible confidential source familiar with the controversy says that retribution over the city’s settlement with Duran’s deputy Ian Owen is fueling the current “witch hunt” by people with a “carnival mentality” toward Duran.
“That mess in 2016 ended up being little more than just dumb drama without substance and I’m telling you this will be the same,” the source said. “He (Duran) isn’t about to resign over these allegations, especially when it appears to be purely politically motivated.”
He was right.
Late Feb. 13, Duran took to Facebook to argue his case, first thanking everyone, including those who sent messages via Grindr, for their support. Then explaining the ugly power struggle at Gay Men’s Chorus of LA, where he has not resigned but will stay on until the end of his term.
Then Duran gets to the allegations. “There has been one formal claim made against me in 20 years with the Chorus. An independent investigator was hired. He interviewed both parties and the 5 alibi witnesses who were with me that evening. And the witnesses all concurred that nothing unusual happened in the dressing room while they were with me. So, the claim was found to be unsubstantiated and the case was closed.”
The second complaint regarded a crude comment four years ago, for which he apologized at the time, and the third complaint, about which he knew nothing, has not yet been formally lodged with GMCLA. He’s asked the GMCLA board “to hire another investigator to look at the claim EVEN THOUGH neither of us work for the chorus and it is NOT a workplace issue.”
Duran then takes on this issue due process, firmly re-stating that “SEXUAL HARASSMENT is a serious issue. Accusations must be taken seriously and addressed.”
Duran says: “This has been extremely painful for women for decades and decades. But once the allegations are made and received, there MUST be an investigation before conclusions are reached. This is DUE PROCESS of law in the courts. And I know those rules do not apply in the court of public opinion. It’s much easier in this social media world for people to read something, “like” it, retweet it and then move on. But none of us (including me) wants to ever be accused falsely and have people jump to opinion and conclusion without any process in between. That is contempt prior to investigation.”
The bigger issue is the interpretation of sexual expression, per se. Duran: “I have never hidden from any of you that I am a fully fledged sexual being. We fought too hard in the 70’s and 80’s for the right to be, the right to create a gay male subculture, the right to maintain sexuality in the midst of plague and to come out on the other side into marriage equality. To express yourselves sexually just like any other subculture in America. And we explored the lengths of that spectrum from leather community to drag queens. Am I the only gay man in town who uses bawdy sexual humor? Or says inappropriate things? Nope. Pretty much happens daily around here from gym to coffee shop to Pavillion’s!
“Now, I understand that the ground has shifted in a tectonic way with the “Me Too” movement. I get that. But the pendulum swings too far when accusation is treated as truth, and mobs swirl around rumor and conclusions are drawn based on someone’s race, gender or sexual orientation and accusation alone. That leads to injustice.”
So, will he resign from the West Hollywood City Council?
Duran says: “Those of you who know me – well know the answer. HELL NO. I have stared down the KKK, the White Aryan Resistance, right wing judges and Presidents. I am not beholden to any blog or media storm. And being sexual does not equal sexual harassment. No means NO! But you gotta say “no!” first. I hope that West Hollywood never loses its edge, its sexual appetite, its flirtatiousness, its sexy people, its nightclubs and children of the night. Freedom also includes sexual expression in art, In music. And in this very short life. And now, back to the craziness …… If my colleagues shorten my Mayoral term – so be it. I didn’t wage this fight for 40 years to cower now…..”