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Essential California: A drag laureate for West Hollywood?

A drag queen leads a group in the LA Pride parade as rainbow confetti flies
Drag queen Joey “Rubi” Prez, center, walks with other participants during the annual L.A. Pride Parade in West Hollywood in 2016.
(Harrison Hill / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Oct. 22, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Poet laureates have proliferated in recent years, with a growing number of even small and midsize cities naming their own ceremonial scribes.

But an officially recognized drag laureate? While the literary arts are well represented in the ceremonial position sector, drag queens have yet to find themselves recognized in similar laureate roles. But that may soon change.

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After a similar idea was suggested in San Francisco, the city of West Hollywood is moving forward on creating its own “drag laureate” position.

According to a city memo, the proposed West Hollywood drag laureate would serve as an ambassador to local businesses, particularly those in the city’s historic LGBTQ district, and would promote arts and culture in West Hollywood more broadly.

The city is now on its fourth poet laureate after creating the role in 2014. The duties of that honorary position include writing a poem about West Hollywood, running poetry workshops and appearing at various local events.

The drag laureate would be doing sort of the same thing, according to West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran — minus the poetry and plus an emphasis on LGBTQ cultural events.

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“I think it’s a good way to reemphasize the city’s brand of being outrageous, flamboyant [and] notorious,” Duran said of the proposal. “I mean, we’ve already got drag queens reading books to schoolchildren in West Hollywood. So why not have a drag laureate to help promote local businesses and our local culture?” (Drag Queen Story Hour, normally held the fourth Saturday of even-numbered months at the West Hollywood library, has moved online during the pandemic.)

The creation of a drag laureate was first suggested in San Francisco’s citywide LGBTQ+ Cultural Heritage Strategy plan. The mention caught West Hollywood City Councilwoman Lauren Meister’s eye, and she reached out to Duran about co-writing a proposal for a similar program in West Hollywood.

Service to the LGBTQ community and progressive values have been baked into West Hollywood’s DNA since the relatively young city was incorporated in November 1984.

Before that, the 1.9-square-mile city — bounded by Beverly Hills to the west and the city of Los Angeles on all other sides — had been an unincorporated swath of L.A. County. By the early 1980s, the area had become a nationally known gay enclave that also had a large senior population. Roughly 88% of residents were renters in 1984, and the drive for cityhood was driven in part by concerns over a county rent control law set to expire the next year.

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The urgent need for rent control protections galvanized an unlikely coalition of gay activists and elderly Jews to lead a long-shot incorporation campaign to victory.

That same November 1984 vote also ushered in a five-member City Council for the newly formed city — a group that made West Hollywood the first city in the nation to have a majority openly gay governing body. Within a year of incorporation, West Hollywood had adopted a strict rent control law and become the second city in the country to legally recognize gay couples.

Much has changed since the mid-1980s in West Hollywood, but progressive politics and the celebration of LGBTQ culture remain central to its civic identity.

This week, the City Council voted to direct staff to develop a drag laureate program and outline its scope, guidelines and selection process. After that work is complete, the proposal will be brought back to the council for another vote before the position is officially approved. That vote will probably come sometime in December.

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“The LGBT community, we’re very accustomed to dealing with trauma,” Duran said, referring to the ravages of the AIDS crisis and calling COVID-19 “the second epidemic” West Hollywood has faced.

[See also: “Amid coronavirus, West Hollywood’s LGBTQ community hears echoes of the AIDS crisis” in the Los Angeles Times]

“And we’ve always seemed to suffer from varying degrees of oppression,” he continued. “But even in the midst of all that, we’ve always found a way to find humor and color and brightness. And I think drag personifies all of that.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California and the nation:

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The Dodgers lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 in Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday. The series is now tied at one game apiece heading into Friday’s Game 3. Los Angeles Times

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L.A. STORIES

Quibi is shutting down. The end of one of the most ambitious Hollywood start-ups in years comes less than seven months after Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman launched the nascent streaming service to remake the business of short-form video. Los Angeles Times

L.A. County will ease some coronavirus rules, although a wide reopening remains elusive. The changes, expected this week, will let family entertainment centers open outdoors, eliminate a requirement that customers at wineries and breweries make reservations and remove the food requirement for wineries. Los Angeles Times

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The city of Los Angeles has hired an outside law firm to investigate allegations that longtime mayoral political consultant Rick Jacobs sexually harassed an L.A. police officer. Word of the hiring comes as new accusations of misconduct by Jacobs surfaced this week. Los Angeles Times

Stephanie Wittels Wachs lost her brother, TV writer Harris Wittels, to an overdose; producer Jessica Cordova Kramer also lost a brother to addiction. Now they’ve paired up for a podcast, “Last Day,” that tackles society’s deadliest stigmas with humor and frankness. Los Angeles Times

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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

Officials say Iran and Russia have tried to influence the U.S. election. The leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI warned Wednesday night that Iran and Russia have obtained voter registration information and are sending disinformation to voters ahead of election day. Los Angeles Times

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A Sacramento judge refused to order the California Republican Party to disclose information about its ballot drop box program to state officials, rejecting an argument by Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra that the investigation was essential to ensuring ballots are being properly handled. Los Angeles Times

Who is Kristen Welker? Meet the NBC News correspondent who will moderate Thursday’s presidential debate. Los Angeles Times

NBC's Kristen Welker sits on the set of NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt
NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker has the task of keeping the second and final presidential debate under control.
(NBC News)

CRIME AND COURTS

Purdue Pharma will plead guilty to three federal criminal charges. The drugmaker behind the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin, which experts say helped touch off the U.S. opioid crisis, will plead guilty as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion, the Justice Department said Wednesday. Los Angeles Times

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California survivors of child abuse urge others to take action against the Boy Scouts. In February, Boy Scouts of America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is using the process to create a trust fund to compensate victims. Survivors must file claims in the case by Nov. 16 to receive monetary damages. Fresno Bee

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

California corrections officials must release or transfer more than 1,000 inmates from the notoriously outdated San Quentin prison after showing “deliberate indifference” to prisoners’ health during an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, an appeals court ruled this week. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

How women in Major League Baseball found support in a group text. For dozens of women working in the male-dominated pro baseball world, this WhatsApp text chain is a rare space for support, brainstorming and understanding. New York Times

The pandemic has pushed some Silicon Valley start-ups back into the garage. With many labs closed, engineers are bringing their tinkering back to the home space that figures prominently in so many Silicon Valley origin stories. New York Times

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A poem to start your Thursday: “Instructions on Not Giving Up” by Ada Limón. Poets.org

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Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: clouds clearing, 75. San Diego: clouds clearing, 74. San Francisco: mostly sunny, 74. San Jose: mostly sunny, 79. Fresno: sunny, 85. Sacramento: sunny, 81. More weather is here.

AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Teri Nicoll-Johnson:

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In the 1950s we moved into a new tract home in Whittier. We four siblings spent hours playing in the orange grove at the end of our street, building forts in trees and pelting each other with oranges. We named a nearby creek “Willow Creek” where we caught minnows and had other adventures. Once we decided to run away from home. We packed some clothes and food and headed to Willow Creek, feeling so sneaky, but already a little homesick. Soon my mother drove up in the station wagon and yelled, “Get in the car, we’re going to Grandma’s!”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.


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