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West Hollywood City Council delays vote on Mayor John Duran’s tenure

An intersection of outrage takes the council by storm

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Lauren Meister requested City Attorney take a look at the situation and provide the Council with options at a special meeting in April. (Screengrab)

About 50 members of the #MeToo Movement/LA joined with protesters from Black Lives Matter and Justice4Gemmel to demand the resignation of Mayor John Duran At a rally on Feb. 19 in front of the West Hollywood City Council Chamber.

The rally occurred before the council meeting that drew intense media attention after 3 councilmembers used social media to call for the mayor to step down.

Duran recently drew the ire of many community activists after it was revealed that a member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles had accused him of making an unwelcome physical contact by touching the waistband of his underwear. And though a third party investigator found there was no evidence of wrongdoing and the matter was dropped, it served to revive memories of prior instances where the mayor’s behavior had drawn similar scrutiny and unleashed reports of new ones.

Duran finds himself at the intersection of many community flashpoints beyond the allegations of inappropriate behavior.

To shouts of “Duran must go,” the protestors linked Duran to Ed Buck, who is currently being investigated by police surrounding the deaths in his WeHo apartment of two gay African-American men — Gemmel Moore in 2017 and Timothy Dean in 2019. Moore died of an apparent accidental overdose; the County Coroner has not yet released the cause of Dean’s death.

“Duran must resign unequivocally” said protester Rosalind Jones. Council candidate and local lawyer Sepi Shyne agreed, telling the Los Angeles Blade that Duran “absolutely” must resign.

At the council meeting, Duran’s fellow Councilmembers voted unanimously to end his previously-extended term as mayor early, in May instead of September, thus returning the term limit to the standard one year.

Incumbent Councilmembers Lauren Meister, Lindsey Horvath, and John D’Amico were joined by Councilmember John Heilman in calling for Duran to resign his position as mayor. Duran was in Cedars Sinai hospital as doctors monitored blood clots.

“Given John’s current health situation, as well as the controversy, I think it is important for us to move forward with somebody else in charge,” Heilman said to applause from the crowd.

Meister asked City Attorney Mike Jenkins to look at the situation and provide the Council with options at a special meeting in April. The council can vote to strip Duran of his largely ceremonial mayoral position, which ends in two months, but they do not have authority cannot remove him from council.

WeHoTimes.com founder Marco Colantonio read a statement by Duran at the meeting in which he apologized for a comment about the Asian American man who accused him of wrongdoing in the Los Angeles Times. But he did not bow to the intense pressure to resign.

“I flirt. I crack dirty jokes. I often say things that make some cringe. But I do not threaten or physically assault anyone. Not ever. It is not in my DNA. I will own my human flaws for being and saying inappropriate things. But I will never admit conduct that never occurred. That would be dishonest and done for expediency rather than truth,” Duran said in his statement. “Unfortunately, people are now piling on a false narrative that is untrue, misunderstood, and driven by the current mood of the country rather than the rule of law and due process.

Erin Roberts, a member of the “Orange County MeToo Movement,” was among a dozen people who spoke before the council. “A lot of the LGBT community of Orange County comes to West Hollywood to find a safe haven and a welcoming community,” she said. “In order to continue to make it a safe haven it needs to not have people who make the community unsafe, like Ed Buck. One dead black man is a tragedy, two is a pattern.”

She drew a parallel between Duran and Buck. “How many men need to speak up in order for this not to be a rush to judgment? How many complaints need to be filed in order for you to take this seriously?”she asked.

In 2011, Duran provided legal counsel to Buck, a longtime member of Stonewall Democratic Club, but says he “never represented [Buck] in a case.”

Dennis Gleason addresses the City Council. (Photo by Troy Masters)

Others who addressed the council included Dennis Gleason, a policy director for LA Councilman Joe Busciano, who alleged that he was subject to unsolicited messages from Duran on Grindr.

Robert Oliver, who resigned from the WeHo Public Safety Commission in protest against the councilmembers’ unwillingness to speak out about Duran, also called for the mayor’s immediate resignation.

“Any doubt that I have had about the seriousness of this situation has been alleviated by the individuals who have since come to share their interactions with Mayor Duran,” declared Oliver. “What he cannot understand or is unwilling to admit is the fact that many feel like they can’t say ‘No’ to the mayor or to the chair of the board,” adding “or to a pillar in the recovery community.”

“The time for excuses is over,” said former councilmember Steve Martin.

City Council candidate Tom DeMille countered the trend, decrying the “rush to judgment to ruin a man. You don’t ruin men, you don’t ruin women,” he said. “No one is perfect.”

During Councilmember comments, Horvath doubled down on her call for Duran to resign. The Council “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,” she said.

She also linked Duran to Buck, saying the harassment allegations were a “diversion from the gravely serious homicide investigations that are ongoing in our city.”

The LA County Coroner ruled Moore’s death to be an accidental overdose and has not yet announced what caused Dean’s death. The Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau told the Los Angeles Blade that both cases are ongoing “death investigations.” Lt. William Moulde told the council there is no update on the status of the investigations.

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The Stonewall Inn bans Anheuser-Busch during NYC Pride weekend

“We urge Anheuser-Busch and other companies doing this to publicly commit to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians”

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NYC Pride 2019 passes in front of the Stonewall Inn (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

NEW YORK – In response to news that the Anheuser-Busch InBev company had made political contributions to lawmakers behind bills targeting transgender youth, the owners of the Stonewall Inn announced its ban of AB InBev products during New York City’s Pride weekend.

The historic West Village pub, widely regarded as the location of one of the seminal defining events in the history of the LGBTQ rights movement, is sponsoring a public ‘pour-out’ of Bud Light, Michelob ULTRA, and Stella Artois in front of the bar on Wednesday, June 23, to demand that the Leuven, Belgium based AB InBev stop donating to anti-LGBTQ legislators and commit to using its lobbying efforts to advance the Equality Act.

Should the Equality Act be passed, it would afford LGBTQ people with equal nondiscrimination protections under federal law.

“You can’t turn your logo rainbow on social media, call yourself an ally, and then turn around and make donations that fuel hate. There are really no excuses, and companies like Anheuser-Busch need to own up to what they’ve done,” said Stonewall Inn co-owner Stacy Lentz. “As a business owner, it’s never easy to stop selling a product that affects your bottom line — especially during the busiest weekend of the year. But I’m an activist above all else and we at The Stonewall Inn know we bear a unique responsibility to call out hypocrisy when we see it. Anheuser-Busch and other companies must do better.”

According to data from the Keep Your Pride campaign, since 2015, Anheuser-Busch has made 48 donations totaling $35,350 to 29 anti-LGBTQ legislators behind recent bills attacking trans youth. 

Through its nonprofit arm, The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, Stonewall recently launched the Safe Spaces program, which identifies and certifies entertainment venues, food and beverage locations, stores, businesses, and other public venues as Safe Spaces for LGBTQ people. Under its criteria for certification, businesses that donate to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers would not qualify for designation as a Safe Space.

“As one of our best-selling products, Bud Light has been a longtime staple here at The Stonewall Inn. It’s deeply disappointing to learn that Anheuser-Busch has given money to lawmakers who are attacking trans kids, some of the most vulnerable people in the LGBTQ community,” said Stonewall Inn co-owner Kurt Kelly.

“We’re horrified to see so-called allies supporting lawmakers who would make life harder for anyone in our community. We urge Anheuser-Busch and other companies doing this to publicly commit to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians and use their lobbying power to support the Equality Act,” Kelly added.

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SCOTUS ruling on Philadelphia case, LGBTQ groups view with some relief

Immediate reaction from some LGBTQ groups and individuals was dismay, while others viewed the decision as a relief.

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Graphic: The Los Angeles Blade

LOS ANGELES – The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision Thursday in a unanimous 9-0 ruling that sided with Catholic Social Services (CSS),  a Catholic social services organization that sued the city of Philadelphia after the city excluded it from a foster-care program due to the organization’s refusal to certify same-sex couples as foster parents.

Immediate reaction from some LGBTQ groups and individuals was dismay, while others viewed the decision as a relief. Shannon Minter, Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Blade in a phone call Thursday that ruling was exceedingly narrow, aimed at a section of the contract by the City, and more importantly was not a ruling that would be citable in future litigation in terms of an anti-LGBTQ basis.

Specifically, Minter noted that with this unanimous ruling, the court avoided a situation that would overrule the 1990 SCOTUS ruling in the case of [the] Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith. That ruling, authored by Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had made it more difficult for religious people and groups to secure exemptions from generally applicable laws governing anti-discrimination

Scalia in the Smith case wrote; [that] “the Court has never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that government is free to regulate. Allowing exceptions to every state law or regulation affecting religion would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.” Justice Scalia goes on to cite examples such as compulsory military service, payment of taxes, vaccination requirements, and child-neglect laws.

Minter opined that while there would be definite support to overturning Smith by three of the court’s conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, he was doubtful that Chief Justice John Roberts, or the court’s other conservative justices Stephen Breyer, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett are that eager, given that there isn’t a legal remedy or replacement for Smith that would not create chaos within the federal judiciary in future challenges.

Properly understood, today’s decision is a significant victory for LGBTQ people, Minter said. The focus is on a contractual clause which is what the court focused in on. Writing in concurrence, Justice Alito noted, albeit it somewhat sarcastically, “This decision might as well be written on the dissolving paper sold in magic shops. The City has been adamant about pressuring CSS to give in, and if the City wants to get around today’s decision, it can simply eliminate the never-used exemption power. If it does that, then, voilà, today’s decision will vanish — and the parties will be back where they started.”

Minter pointed out that the Court did not change the current constitutional framework, which permits governments to enforce antidiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people even when doing so may have a disparate burden on those who hold certain religious beliefs.

“As a result of today’s decision, those who feared the Court might create a sweeping new religious exemption to such laws can breathe a sigh of relief,” he concluded.

Also weighing in was Leslie Cooper, deputy director of the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “We are relieved that the court did not recognize a license to discriminate based on religious beliefs,” she said.

“Opponents of LGBTQ equality have been seeking to undo hard-won non-discrimination protections by asking the court to establish a constitutional right to opt out of such laws when discrimination is motivated by religious beliefs. This is the second time in four years that the court has declined to do so. This is good news for LGBTQ people and for everyone who depends on the protections of non-discrimination laws,” Cooper added.

Eugene Volokh, the Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, writing in his Volokh Conspiracy blog noted;

Justice Barrett, joined by Justice Kavanaugh, concurring: The original meaning of the Free Exercise Clause is unclear on the broader question of religious exemptions from generally applicable laws, but “As a matter of text and structure, it is difficult to see why the Free Exercise Clause—lone among the First Amendment freedoms—offers nothing more than protection from discrimination.” Yet Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh are “skeptical about swapping Smith‘s categorical antidiscrimination approach for an equally categorical strict scrutiny regime, particularly when this Court’s resolution of conflicts between generally applicable laws and other First Amendment rights—like speech and assembly—has been much more nuanced.” In particular,

To name a few: Should entities like Catholic Social Services—which is an arm of the Catholic Church—be treated differently than individuals? Cf. Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012) [providing broad protection for certain decisions by religious institutions -EV]. Should there be a distinction between indirect and direct burdens on religious exercise? Cf. Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) (plurality opinion). What forms of scrutiny should apply? Compare Sherbert v. Verner (1963) (assessing whether government’s interest is “‘compelling'”), with Gillette v. United States (1971) (assessing whether government’s interest is “substantial”). And if the answer is strict scrutiny, would pre-Smith cases rejecting free exercise challenges to garden-variety laws come out the same way? See Smith.

M. Currey Cook, Counsel and Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal, issued the following statement. “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is troubling but, importantly, it refused to give a free pass to people or agencies that want to discriminate against LGBTQ people for religious reasons and is limited to the specifics of Philadelphia’s foster care system. Instead, the Court validated the City’s ‘weighty’ interest in the equal treatment of LGBTQ prospective foster parents and foster children. The only reason those interests did not carry the day was due to the specifics of the City’s contract. Because the Court decided the case on contract-specific grounds, the City can address the situation by rewriting its contracts.” 

“But make no mistake.  Philadelphia has never refused to work with Catholic Social Services. The agency has continued to receive millions of dollars in foster care contracts from Philadelphia and the contract at issue simply applied a standard, important nondiscrimination principle to its contract agencies. Foster care is a government function, and all governments have a compelling interest in ensuring their contract agencies, including faith-based ones, treat all children and families equally. And today’s ruling does mean, at least for now, that different-sex married couples have access to all city agencies, while same-sex couples do not,” Cook said.

“The court’s ruling today on Fulton is a narrow one, limited in both nature and scope. The most important take-away is that the Supreme Court unanimously refused to allow a religious entity to have a license to discriminate. We stand in solidarity with the community in Philadelphia that is working for the fair and equitable treatment of  those who want to provide safe and loving homes to children and hold in our hearts the many children who will be impacted by this decision,” Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force said.

“The work ahead for our community is clear – we must continue to advocate for local and state non-discrimination laws, apply the ones that exist and most importantly, fight for the Equality Act, which would provide long overdue Federal protections to the LGBTQ community and many others,” she added.

Equality California’s Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur, a prominent civil rights attorney weighed in saying, “Today’s ruling by the Court is limited in nature and scope. While the Court ruled against the City based on the specific facts of this case, we are heartened by the fact that it did not recognize or create a license to discriminate. The Court’s ruling means that governments can — and must — continue to enforce neutral, generally applicable laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination both inside and out of the foster care system.”

There was a note of defiance and dissent to the ruling from the SPLC listed anti-LGBTQ hate group, the Family Research Council, which released this tweet:

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LGBTQ Florida state Rep. Michele Rayner announces bid for Congress

“I am making this announcement during Pride Month – a time we recognize how far LGBTQ folks have come and how far we have to go”

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Florida State Representative Michele Rayner (D-District 70) (Photo Credit: State Rep. Michele Rayner)

LARGO, FL. – The race to replace Democrat Charles Joseph (Charlie) Crist Jr. in Florida’s 13th Congressional District seat was joined by civil rights attorney and state Representative Michele Rayner (D-District 70) Monday.

In a small gathering at her church, the Lighthouse Church of Jesus in Largo, which is the third largest city in Pinellas County, she announced her bid for the seat occupied by Charlie Crist who is leaving Congress in 2022 after serving three terms to make a run for Governor challenging Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

Rayner who was elected to the Florida House in 2020, was the first openly Black LGBTQ woman to be elected to the Florida Legislature. If she is elected to the U.S. House, she will be one of the first openly queer Black women to serve on the Hill. Speaking to supporters on Monday she acknowledged her announcement to run for Congress was made during Pride Month. However, she noted that issues such as access to quality education, affordable health care, environment issues, systemic racism and more are of paramount concern to her.

“These are serious problems that require serious public servants working to address them,” Rayner said. “It’s not lost on me that I am making this announcement during Pride Month – a time we recognize how far LGBTQ folks have come and how far we have to go.”

“And I understand, if elected, that I will be one of the first openly queer Black women to serve in Congress. I say that because I want to go ahead and say that that is not why I am running- because I am running to continue to serve my community with the same determination, tenacity, selflessness and commitment to public service that I have employed throughout my whole time here in Florida,” she added.

Raynor briefly mentioned the death of her father in December of 2020 and then shifted her emphasis to the purpose to her run for the U.S. House characterizing her campaign [as] “about bringing all of our communities together to create positive change in this society.”

“It’s about public service…this campaign is very personal for me,” she said. “My vision is for my community and this state – and indeed – I believe the whole United States to be governed by representatives and people who truly serve their constituents – not themselves.”

In addition to Raynor, other Democrats who have announced their intent to run are Eric Lynn, former foreign policy adviser to former President Barack Obama, and Benjamin Frank Diamond, an attorney also a member of the Florida House of Representatives from the 68th district.

The only Republican candidate who has declared for the seat, U.S. Air Force veteran Anna Paulina Luna, who ran against and lost to Crist in last year’s November elections.

Rayner lives in St. Petersburg with her wife Bianca Goolsby.

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