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Gay Activists Lose Fight Despite Ruling Voiding Law on Parade Permits : Lawsuit: Judge strikes down ordinance over wording but upholds various requirements that activists have claimed are discriminatory.

February 07, 1991|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Organizers of the local gay pride parade have emerged from a 5-year-old lawsuit against the city more the losers than the winners.

Although a Superior Court ruling last month struck down a city ordinance that had been challenged by the parade group, the ruling at the same time upheld various requirements that gay and lesbian leaders have claimed are discriminatory.

Consequently, the city could simply rewrite the ordinance, dropping wording the judge objected to and retaining provisions considered objectionable by Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Inc., which runs the annual gay parade and festival every spring.

Ruling in Long Beach, retired Superior Court Judge Charles Litwin concluded that the ordinance gave too much discretion to the city manager in granting parade permits. The problem, Litwin ruled, is that the ordinance said a permit "may" be issued rather than "shall" be issued if various provisions are met.

"The judge struck down the ordinance based on one word," said Deputy City Atty. Mike Mais, one of two city attorneys who handled the case. He added that his office would wait until the judge put his ruling in writing before deciding if the city would appeal the decision. If the city does not appeal, he said, the ordinance will be amended to satisfy the judge's concerns.

But he rejected Gay Pride's assertions that the city violated the group's constitutional rights of assembly and free speech by requiring it to post $1-million worth of liability insurance and pay the costs of police protection for their events.

"This was a lesbian and gay group that brought this challenge, but we were challenging the ordinance in a broader scope," said Bill Weinberger, a private attorney who represented the group in a civil suit filed on its behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1985. "You just impose so many requirements that people are going to take a look at the ordinance they have to comply with and say, 'Gosh, we can't do that.' "

But Mais said the ruling made it clear "that we can require reimbursement for (police) services and proof of insurance."

Gay leaders have also complained that not all groups have to comply with the permit provisions. For instance, the police fees and insurance requirements are not imposed on the local Martin Luther King Parade.

"That makes me furious," said Judith Doyle, founding president of the gay pride group and a festival organizer until a couple of years ago. "If the city wants to subsidize special-interest groups, make it across the board."

Mais insisted the two cannot be compared, since the King parade was sponsored by the city. "The judge didn't believe the city showed unconstitutional favoritism to one group over the other," Mais said.

The City Council in the past has been asked to approve city sponsorship of the gay pride events and has refused.

Still, relations between festival organizers and the city have improved in recent years. "(City officials) have tried to be as fair as possible with us," Doyle said. "But the bottom line is we feel it's unfair for ours or any organization to have to pay for (police) services and the insurance."

Local gay leaders also point to West Hollywood, which has a massive gay and lesbian parade and festival every year but provides more than $80,000 worth of sheriff's coverage free.

Started in 1984, the two-day Long Beach festival and parade have grown in popularity and size and last year attracted about 30,000 people, according to organizers.

Doyle estimated that police coverage for the festival and parade costs about $20,000 a year and that insurance coverage has cost up to $10,000 a year. Under an agreement with the city, Gay Pride has for several years paid 25% of the police fees to the city and put the rest aside in a special account, pending the outcome of the case. Mais said the organization will now have to pay the city those deferred fees.

Litwin decided the case after presiding over a non-jury trial--under a special court program that allows retired judges to hear cases if both parties agree.

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