A panel titled “Welcome to Gay Town” explored the idea of the gay community as an ethnic and cultural idea Wednesday night and featured panelists such as West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman.
Heilman, who has served on the city council since the city’s incorporation in 1984, and West Hollywood Major Pro Tempore John Duran said having a centralized gay community has affected the gay rights’ movement and the integration of LGBT individuals.
“It wasn’t a conscious effort to develop into a gay community. It was an organic development that took place as people felt comfortable within the community,” Heilman said. “It was a lot of like-minded people coming together because they were attracted for different reasons.”
The campaign to establish an independent City of West Hollywood was been spearheaded by a coalition of LGBT activists. Its first city council had three openly gay members, making it the first city in the county to have an openly gay majority governing body.
The panel also included senior policy counsel for the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center Sky Johnson, Southern California program manager for the Gay-Straight Alliance Network Daniel E. Solis and associate professor of clinical education at the USC Rossier School of Education Mary Andres.
Solis, who works mostly with middle and high school gay-straight alliance groups said that, although the gay community has made many strides, there are still problems.
“You’re okay now: you have characters on Glee and Ellen is the new Oprah. That’s not true, there are parts of L.A. that are not safe … and you have to recognize that,” Solis said. “A lot of schools don’t know what to do about transgendered students in terms of bathrooms, P.E. and other things. … That’s something that we as a community need to attend to and something we need to advocate for.”
The panel also discussed the HIV and AIDS epidemic affecting the community.
“HIV and AIDS in many ways pushed the community together. The first time we all got together, we met in West Hollywood in Plumber Park. We were setting up chairs row by row and a group of lesbians came in and said, ‘No, set them up in a circle so that everyone has an equal say,’ … so we spent an hour arguing about how to arrange the chairs,” Duran said. “We had to redefine the way we treated gender in order to work together.”
At the end of the panel, Johnson asked audience members how they felt about the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative.
Tiara Raffine, a graduate student studying social work, said she was strongly opposed because it implicitly condones a negative view of gays.
“The biggest issue that comes up is I’m sitting in a classroom and people are making fun of me and the teacher will do nothing. That makes me feel bad about myself as a person,” Raffine said. “It’s very problematic that we perpetuate that idea. Maybe it’s OK for adults who are more sure about who they are, more secure, but for the younger generation it’s very difficult.”
The event was hosted by the Office of Campus Activities and the LGBT Resource Center. It was moderated by Queer and Ally Student Assembly Executive Director Emily Allen and the Lambda LGBT Alumni Association Events Co-Chair Genevieve Flores, who graduated in the spring.