Some of the Westside’s leading gay rights activists have dismissed as inadequate an agreement between West Hollywood officials and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department aimed at recruiting gays as sheriff’s deputies.
About 50 activists have endorsed a petition circulated by City Councilman Steve Schulte demanding that the department recruit openly gay men and women as deputies.
The activists, who include David Mixner, a political consultant, and Tori Osborn, executive director of the Los Angeles Area Gay and Lesbian Services Center, also want Sheriff Sherman Block to establish a department policy explicitly barring discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Saying that talks between city officials and the Sheriff’s Department have resulted in “little but frustration,” the petition takes aim at the recruitment plan, announced in February, for what it calls “weak statements” and “vague promises.”
Besides individual activists, the petition has the endorsement of the Stonewall Democratic Club, the Gay and Lesbian chapter of the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Police Advisory Task Force.
The Sheriff’s Department provides police protection to West Hollywood--where an estimated 35% of the 37,000 residents are gay--under an $8.5-million-a-year contract that expires next year. About 120 deputies are assigned to the city.
The agreement, reached after months of negotiations, calls for the city to help coordinate the recruitment and testing of prospective deputies in the West Hollywood area.
The arrangement was a compromise reached after West Hollywood officials first asked that the Sheriff’s Department itself openly recruit gays and lesbians in a way similar to that in which it recruits racial and ethnic minorities.
It marks the first time the department has sought help in recruiting from any of the 37 cities it patrols. The first recruitment and testing session scheduled as part of the plan is set for May 17 at Fairfax High School.
‘Clear Public Statements’
The petition calls on the department to specifically mention gays in recruitment policies and program materials, and insists that Sheriff Block make “clear public statements” that discrimination based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated in the department.
The document also calls for the creation of a Public Safety Commission in West Hollywood that, among other things, would hear complaints from people who claim they have been abused by sheriff’s deputies.
And it urges that a feasibility study be conducted to determine how much it would cost for West Hollywood to establish its own police force.
Schulte, who has said he is not currently in favor of the city trying to establish its own police force, said last week the item was included in the petition “out of respect for the opinion of some” gay activists who thought it ought to be included.
Although city officials have praised the Sheriff’s Department for its crime-fighting abilities, gays have frequently complained to the City Council of being harassed by deputies. Gay rights activists have decried the fact that there are no acknowledged gays among the department’s more than 7,000 deputies.
Officials of the Sheriff’s Department have denied that the recruitment plan is tacitly designed to increase the number of gays in its ranks, even though city officials make no secret that their interest in the plan hinges on the recruitment of gays.
The Sheriff’s Department has long maintained it does not discriminate against any group when it comes to hiring, and insists that its recruitment effort in West Hollywood is part of a broader effort to increase recruitment on the Westside.
Schulte, one of two acknowledged gays on the City Council, broke ranks with other council members shortly after the plan was announced, calling it a “3 on a scale of 10" and saying it was “totally inadequate to deal with the problem.”
Other council members, including Councilman John Heilman, who is also an acknowledged gay, have worked diligently behind the scenes to persuade the Sheriff’s Department to change its policies, but have generally refrained from criticizing the department openly.
That has often put them at odds with militant members of the gay community who have joined Schulte in pushing for the city to take a more aggressive role.
Last week, when City Manager Paul Brotzman invited a group of about 15 gay leaders to meet in an attempt to rally support for the city’s efforts to make the recruitment plan a success, he was greeted instead by a barrage of criticism that the city was not being aggressive enough.
“How can you call it gay recruitment when the Sheriff’s Department won’t even use the ‘G’ word?,” asked gay activist Marshal Phillips.
He and others have accused the department of reneging on a commitment to place recruitment ads in the gay press, and have said that recruitment posters placed at West Hollywood bus stops have no special relevance to gays.
While city officials are responsible for recruitment advertising, the Sheriff’s Department has reserved the right to say which materials may be used, and where the ads may be placed.
The department has said it will not permit advertising in publications containing “sexually explicit” materials, such as Frontiers.
But some gay activists have been offended because Sheriff’s Department officials have resisted advertising in other gay publications, despite the efforts of several city officials who have privately urged them to do so.
Among the other publications the Sheriff’s Department has turned down is the official 1989 program guide of the Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival.
“We’re a bit puzzled by it, because we’re very careful about what we allow in (the program guide) and don’t regard anything in there as being sexually explicit,” said Gary Jonker, president of Christopher Street West, the festival’s sponsor.
Sandy Dwyer, publisher of The News, a gay and lesbian newspaper with a circulation of 11,500, said she was told two weeks ago by department representatives that no recruitment ads would be placed in her newspaper.
While acknowledging that a decision was made not to advertise in the program guide, Sheriff’s Cmdr. Bill Baker said last week that the department was “still evaluating” whether to advertise in The News.
Dwyer, who was among those invited to the meeting by Brotzman, said she was “not sure that it accomplished much.”
“I don’t really see how the Sheriff’s Department can legitimately expect to recruit gays and lesbians when the environment within the department is so bad that no gay deputies are willing to come out (and make their sexual orientation known),” she said. “The jury is still out on the entire plan.”