A large trans flag painted at the culmination of the All Black Lives Matter march on June 14 was removed by the West Hollywood Public Works Department. The surprise art work at the intersection of San Vicente and Santa Monica Blvds was power-washed off the street as part of “routine maintenance and ongoing graffiti removal efforts,” a source told the Los Angeles Blade.
Apparently, the department was unaware of the growing controversy over the trans flag. They received neither word to leave it untouched nor word to remove it. The LA Blade has also learned that the WeHo Sheriff’s station had been notified about the art installation for the unpermitted march and visibly posted two squad cars to ensure there were no safety incidents.
The controversy first erupted when WeHo Councilmember John Duran, who participated in the march, arrived at the intersection and was surprised to find the flag installation. No one had sought a permit nor had regular protocols and procedures been followed to get one in advance of the long-publicized march.
Duran and Councilmember Lauren Meister expressed concerns at the Monday night City Council meeting about the flag and took issue with the illegal flag painting and that traffic control had been provided by the nearby Sheriff station deputies to protect the unauthorized late-night painting crew.
Additionally, Duran argued at the council meeting, the presence of Mayor Lindsey Horvath gave the appearance of the city’s tacit approval.
Duran pointed out that when the City wanted to paint the Rainbow flag in the intersection, the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) who has jurisdictional control over Santa Monica Blvd., rejected the proposal, saying no symbols or artistic expression outside of traffic control markings were allowed. The City then temporarily painted the sidewalks with rainbow colors for June Pride in 2012. Despite some public objection at the cost to maintain the flag, the city council subsequently approved making the installation permanent.
The controversy over the trans flag installation seemed moot after the Public Works street maintenance crew power-washed the flag off the intersection. A City source told the LA Blade that no instructions had been specifically given to Public Works by any City Council member nor had any instructions been given to leave the flag in place.
On June 22, City spokesperson Joshua Schare sent an email to the LA Blade saying:
“Due to California state laws regulating traffic control, the City of West Hollywood was unable to leave this in place. The City must follow state laws establishing uniform standards and specifications determined by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which prohibits signs or messages placed on the right-of-way by a private organization or individual.
The intersection has been restored to ensure public safety in compliance with state regulations.
The City of West Hollywood is steadfast and passionate about supporting transgender and gender non-conforming people. The City is outraged by the disproportionate impact of discrimination and violence experienced by transgender and gender non-conforming people and the City is deeply committed to amplifying voices, to raising awareness, and to creating spaces for education and empowerment.
Through its Transgender Advisory Board, the City regularly develops and co-sponsors programming. Flagpoles at the City of West Hollywood’s Matthew Shepard Human Rights Triangle at Santa Monica and Crescent Heights Boulevards fly the pink-blue-and-white transgender flag, year-round.”
Horvath confirmed that if the painting organizers had asked her, she would have proposed a temporary permit, which she believes the council would have approved.
“I am not aware of the Sheriff providing clearance to anyone. I do know our Sheriffs were there, protecting the peaceful protestors, and I truly appreciate them stepping up to protect our trans activists and their allies,” Horvath wrote in an email to Los Angeles Blade publisher Troy Masters.
“That being said, I applaud the City’s response to this demonstration, especially since it was not a permitted event. I am a proud ally of the transgender community, and I have marched in the streets in support of black lives. If the organizers of this flag painting action had come to me in time, I would have proudly drafted an agenda item of support for the Council to consider, and I would like to think the Council would have passed it.”
Horvath continued: “We need to direct our energy to support activists who are fighting to protect black trans lives. We should focus our anger on the recent brutal murders of two black trans women, or the Trump Administration’s erasure of healthcare protections for transgender people during Pride Month on the anniversary of the Pulse shooting. Better yet, maybe cisgender people can take a pause all together and listen to our transgender family, center their voices in this conversation, and empower their work.”
Another controversy arose, however, when Duran tried to further explain why the City had no jurisdiction over the intersection or its content. After noting in his daily coronavirus daily update on June 16 that the installation organizers had not sought nor received City approval and that two previous City reports had noted the cost of maintaining an art installation on a highly trafficked street, Duran stressed the City’s lack of control over the ability to regulate Free Speech.
“Finally – although we may agree with the message of this expression for transgender equality – we would not agree with the placement of a confederate flag, or a Greenpeace symbol or any other random expression in the middle of our public streets without public input, proposal competition and a decision made at a public meeting,” Duran wrote.
“So while I understand that the painting on the street is part of the symbolic protest for Trans Equality – we are left with the choice to either let it fade over time and look horrible for many months or restore the corner to its original form.”
Duran added, “if we allow this to stand and possibly continue – we may not like the next painted message another group paints on the asphalt. If we remove one mural yet allow the other to remain – now we, the government, are regulating content in expression. And that’s a big No No.”
Any future decision about what to do “on those 4 corners at Santa Monica Blvd and San Vicente” will involve lots of ideas and community input, he wrote.
Chela Demuir, Founder and President of the LA-based Unique Woman’s Coalition, issued a public “Hey John Duran” letter saying Black LGBTQ+ Activists for Change took exception to Duran’s viewpoints.
Demuir excoriated Duran, reminding him of the history of the Gay Liberation Movement and the Stonewall riots that “made it possible for the City of West Hollywood and other LGBTQ+ cities like it to be what they are today. You may be disconnected from this reality; however, that reality is history—our history, your history,” she wrote in the public letter emailed June 20 to the LA Blade. “And because of that, we will hold you accountable to our foremothers and forefathers whose sacrifices you benefit from today.”
Demuir challenged the whole historic notion of “Boy’s Town” during “this time of liberation and civil unrest,” as Black people and the Black trans community are both “standing up to injustices and exclusionary systems” around the world.
“You mentioned the intersection of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevards as a substantial and symbolic space for trans people. However, if we look at the amount of geographic and metaphorical space occupied by gay men, including an area where the trans flag was installed referred to as ‘Boys Town,’ you know as well as anyone else the lack of adequate safe spaces for trans citizens is yet another oversight of the City of West Hollywood,” she wrote.
“Another element which quite frankly speaks to your tone-deafness to LGBTQ+ issues at large (which you a part) is your equating the transgender flag to the Confederate flag, a symbol of white supremacy, exclusion and oppression,” Demuir wrote, referencing Duran’s Facebook post about government not regulating speech. “The transgender flag remains a symbol of inclusion and visibility for a part of the LGBTQ+ community which has historically been excluded; and, to be clear, this in comparison is a Trump tactic used to spotlight your ‘concerns’ from a blatant prejudiced and exclusionary perspective.”
The Black LGBTQ+ Activists for Change asserted in the letter to Duran: “Your past and current actions, sentiments, and lack of leadership have shown the City and the community that you do not represent LGBTQ+ people, aim to erase the trans community, and are a poor representative of the city and its residents, businesses, and guests.”
They demanded Duran’s resignation from the West Hollywood City Council and promised to take action against him.
Duran – who started his legal career defending LGBTQs and ACT UP in Orange County and LA in the late 1980s and has served on the boards of LIFE Lobby, ANGLE, Equality California and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials —did not respond to a request for comment.
Karen Ocamb contributed to this story.