A West Hollywood man has sued the owners of the apartments where he lives, claiming he was unlawfully forced to remove a "Gay Pride" flag from his 2nd-floor balcony after the manager told him it did not fit "a particular image."
In a complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, John Stout, 31, seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions against the owners and managers of the apartments at 727 Westbourne Drive to allow him to fly the flag.
The suit contends that the order was motivated, at least in part, by the owners' knowledge that Stout is gay.
It contends that the refusal to allow Stout to display the flag violates federal and state constitutional rights to free speech.
The 3-by-5-foot, rainbow-colored flag is a symbol of pride and unity among gays and lesbians.
It is the same flag that adorns street corners and the median strip along Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, where an estimated 30% of the 37,000 residents are gay or lesbian.
Stout said he had flown the flag from his balcony railing on weekends for 2 years when resident managers Harold and Monique Apter ordered him to remove it in May.
"They said they knew what it represented, and that it wasn't in keeping with 'a particular image' the building's new owners wanted to project to prospective renters," Stout said. "It doesn't take much to figure out they were talking about sexual orientation."
Harold Apter said that he and his wife would have no comment on the matter. Numerous phone calls to officials of Venture Property Management Co., the property managers, and Westbourne Venture Co., which owns the building, were not returned.
After Stout resumed displaying the flag briefly in August, a lawyer for the management company wrote him a letter threatening legal action if the flag was not removed.
"The flag is in violation of the lease and the uniform rules and regulations (of the company)," wrote attorney Stephen C. Phillips. "Our client does not permit signs, flags, and the like, no matter what organization is represented, with the exception of permitting American flags to be displayed on national holidays."
However, Stout's lawyer disputed that claim, saying that neither Stout's lease nor the management company's rules prohibit the display of flags.
"The house rules talk about signs, advertisements, notices, doorplates and similar devices that are engraved or affixed to any part of the building," said attorney Jon Davidson. "They don't say anything about flags, which are in an altogether different category."
Phillips did not return numerous phone calls.
Stout, a rehabilitation counselor, said that the flag "holds great personal meaning" and that he regards it as a political symbol and not a "sign, advertisement, notice, doorplate, or other similar device."
"I don't see how (the managers) can make a case for its being unsightly when if you look around on other people's balconies you see bird cages, bamboo curtains, barbecue grills, bicycles, brooms, mops and even political posters, which they don't seem concerned about," he said.
"At no time in the 2 years I displayed it did the neighbors or anyone else ever complain."