Pasadena City College finally did the right thing. All it took was for lawyers to get involved.
On Wednesday evening, after a closed session that lasted more than 90 minutes, the college’s board of trustees issued a heartfelt apology to Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and voted unanimously to reinvite him to be the school’s commencement speaker.
The trustees' action may bring to a close a self-inflicted public-relations fiasco that ensued after (deep breath here) the college invited Black, then disinvited him because of a sex tape, then replaced him with a public health doctor/religious fundamentalist who once boasted of refusing to treat a prisoner with a pentagram tattoo on his chest, but who then withdrew citing an unforeseen scheduling conflict after PCC students objected to his anti-gay views.
Got all that?
How do we know lawyers got involved?
“My legal team is in talks with their legal team right now,” Black told the website Truthdig's Kasia Anderson on Tuesday, “because you know, there are damages and costs -- that’s really just about making sure we’re compensated, flights are refunded and all that sort of thing.”
Let me just say three things about the enormously talented Black:
He was treated shabbily by college administrators Mark Rocha and Robert Bell, and board President Anthony Fellow, all of whom said he was not an appropriate choice as commencement speaker because of a “scandal” they misunderstood.
I really hope he decides to deliver the commencement address on May 9.
And, honey, he knows how to work it.
Black told Truthdig that the Pasadena City College atmosphere seemed "discriminatory and toxic and dishonest.” But, he added that he cared about the school. "I mean, I love UCLA," he said, but it's PCC that he would "make a donation for, do a fundraiser for, help start a school at.”
Or sue if it ticked him off.
Kidding … sort of.
It’s very clear that PCC holds a special place in Black’s heart. He graduated from the school in 1994 before going on to earn a degree in 1996 from UCLA. “It’s that place that saved me,” he told Truthdig. “It was a safety net for me when I desperately needed it.”
He's a hero to PCC students, particularly ones in the LGBT community, who were upset that college officials had decided that Black would not be suitable because in 2009 someone stole a 2006 sex video from his former boyfriend. On the video, the pair were shown having unprotected sex. Black won a $100,000 judgment from the person who stole the tape and sold it to websites.
“I was really offended that his unprotected sex was an issue,” nursing student Jerry Marquez, 42, told the board. “It made me feel like I am some diseased individual that can only be touched through some shield of rubber, that I cannot partake of the same sexuality that heterosexuals get to. You don’t look at a pregnant woman and say, ‘Oh she had unprotected sex.’”
After the board voted unanimously to reinvite Black, 39, who lives part time in London and is in a relationship with English Olympic diver Tom Daley, I asked Rocha, the college president, if he was embarrassed by the whole episode.
“I feel that we’ve done the right thing tonight,” said Rocha, who has been a controversial figure during his four-year tenure, earning no-confidence votes by students and some faculty for what they have said is his imperious approach to his job. “All I have control over is what we do moving forward.”
Rocha also told me that he had no information about whether the college’s lawyer had spoken with Black’s attorney, which strains credulity given that the board had just been in a long closed session to discuss "anticipated litigation," according to its agenda.
Trustee Ross Selvidge was more forthcoming about the debacle. “This was an enormously embarrassing episode for the school,” he said.
If Black decides not to speak, PCC has left open the possibility that the president can invite someone else.
“Let’s not fool ourselves,” said Selvidge just before the board took its vote. “It’s too late to get anybody else, and I don’t want to go through this another time.”