The veto of AB101, as the job-protections bill was designated, slapped awake a lot of comfortable, semi-closeted professional gay men and lesbians, many of whom had associated middle-of-the-road conservatism with assimilation. For some gay white males in particular, the rhetoric of social victim has never been very appealing. They may be homosexual, but, by God, they are still white males. In many gay circles, talk about activist politics was, well, almost in poor taste. "You talked about the gym, Madonna, shopping, The Industry," Martin says. People have for decades gone to San Francisco to be gay , but they've come to Los Angeles to make it, and their lives reflected that.
The governor punched a hole in that complacency. A fellow Southern Californian, he had courted them, taken their money and their votes and then mooned them. He reminded them that they weren't as assimilated as they thought they were, and they took offense.
Of course, it didn't last. Many of the newcomers drifted back to the bars and their Madonna CDs, and the initiative was deemed too risky to pursue.
"It was like a big marching party," scoffs Cyndy Crogan, a member of the small but influential AIDS activist group ACT UP/LA, and a self-described "radical militant lesbian." As for the gay men who surround her in West Hollywood, she says: "I think they're lazy, and I'm really pissed at them . . . . I don't see any groundbreaking gay and lesbian activity going on here at all."
Still, things are changing. For one thing, Wilson signed another version of the gay rights bill last year. (This one, he said, imposes less of a burden on business.)
Then there are people like Stephanie Sautner, a former New York City police detective who came to Los Angeles to go to law school 13 years ago and stayed. She became a deputy city attorney, joined a gay and lesbian bar group and gave money to AIDS and gay organizations. She also toyed with the idea of becoming a local judge. "I had thought about running, and every time I thought about it, it seemed like an overwhelming task," says Sautner, 45, who lives with her partner of 10 years, Pam Albers, in the View Park area of the city. Wilson changed her mind. "The veto made me so angry and pushed me over the edge." Far from being overwhelming, her judicial bid proved relatively easy. Sautner won a three-way primary last year as an openly lesbian candidate and in January became a Municipal Court judge.
IN WHAT IS SEEN AS A MILESTONE IN LOCAL POLITICS, THERE ARE ALSO three openly gay candidates running for the L.A. City Council in the 13th District, which winds from Atwater Village to Hollywood. Their emergence comes 15 years after San Francisco elected its first openly gay supervisor and two years after a gay man won a seat on the New York City Council.
The lag is partly rooted in the region's suburban allegiances, which have robbed Los Angeles of a concentrated gay ghetto such as San Francisco's Castro district or, to a lesser extent, New York City's Greenwich Village. West Hollywood, which elected several openly gay council members after incorporating as a city in the 1980s, is about as close as it gets. Politically, that dispersal has made it harder for L.A. gays and lesbians to translate their numbers into local electoral clout and put their own into office.
They have consequently poured much of their effort into building their own institutions outside the system, doing pioneering organizing along the way. One of the first gay churches (the Metropolitan Community Church), the first enduring gay political organization (the Mattachine Society), and the first gay political-action committee (the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles) were established here. Now, attention is turning inside the system. "We've done everything we can do depending on the kindness of strangers or friends," insists council contender Michael Weinstein, who is heavily playing the gay card to win community support. Until there are open gays and lesbians in high-profile positions, Weinstein says repeatedly, "We have an absolute glass ceiling; we cannot go any further."
Closeted gays and lesbians are no strangers to office in Los Angeles, but the activist community's tolerance for their closets is fast fading. "There's now a sizable body of people in the gay community who feel that it's unacceptable," observes L.A. school board member Jeff Horton, who came out several months after he took office in 1991. Worried that his homosexuality would dominate the campaign, Horton chose to wait until after he was elected to publicize it. "Things do change fast. Were it this year, I might not have had the concern," says Horton.
The issue has flared in the 13th District, where former L.A. school board president Jackie Goldberg was more or less pressured into being more public about her sexual orientation by press questions spurred by an undercHurrent of sniping within activist circles as well as the explicit openness of the other two gay contestants.