West Hollywood City Councilmember John D’Amico today posted on Facebook a scathing critique of Sepi Shyne, one of the 11 candidates in the Nov. 3 election for two seats on the West Hollywood City Council.
D’Amico was apparently responding to comments Shyne had made during a virtual forum hosted on Sunday by the Stonewall Democratic Club. His remarks referenced a story in the Beverly Press about the forum in which Shyne was quoted as saying West Hollywood is “male focused” and needs to work harder to be accepting to women and Black and transgender women.
“The focus in the delineation of Boystown and even recognizing Go Go Appreciaiton Day are all incredibly male focused and [that] needs to shift,” Shyne said. “I believe that we have to be more open to women and trans women, and make sure that they feel safe, especially our Black trans women in the city.”
“Sepi Shyne doesn’t seem to understand that our small city is big enough to meet and support everyone where they’re at. Whatever their pronoun,” said D’Amico, a gay man, in his Facebook post. D’Amico came in third in the March 2019 election for three City Council seats. Shyne, who has emphasized during her campaign that she is a lesbian immigrant from Iran, was 147 votes behind D’Amico.
“For some reason Ms. Shyne thinks she gets to choose who’s welcome here … believes that her sex negative ‘dog whistle,’ attacking gay men is a way to divide us and to make inroads to the WeHo electorate. It’s not … it seems Ms. Shyne doesn’t understand that you don’t have to tear down gay men to do other work, you only have to do that if you think small and have no vision. Seems she sees herself and can’t see much beyond that, and projects her own failures on the city.”
“It seems Sepi Shyne wants you to put your ‘self’ and your ‘sex life’ back in the closet, Ms. Shyne it seems is uncomfortable with dancing male and female bodies and sex? And therefore, unable to envision a place that is expansive and inclusive, that welcomes and celebrates everyone for who they are and who they want to be? It’s a ‘get out’ instead of a ‘get in’ mentality.
“And really Ms. Shyne, who’s next? Who else offends Sepi Shyne that she’ll be ‘dog-whistling’ past? People with HIV? Homeowners? Hotels on the world famous Sunset Strip? The bartenders and GoGo dancers at the Abbey? The Russian speaking ladies in the supermarkets? I shudder to think. It is very worrisome.”
D’Amico has not yet endorsed any of the candidates in Nov. 3 election, although he was part of the group that participated in a Zoom announcement of John Erickson’s candidacy. Erickson has been criticized for nominating himself as vice chair of the West Hollywood Planning Commission, a move that pushed out of the way Lynn Hoopingarner, who was next in line, and was supported by the other male Planning Commissioners. Shyne is one of two women in the election, with the other being Noemi Torres, a real estate agent and a member of the city’s Public Facilities Commission.
Shyne’s statement and D’Amico’s critique of it illustrate a divide between the city’s shrinking gay white male population and people of other races and sexual or gender identities (most of whom don’t live in West Hollywood) that has slowly become evident in recent years. The city’s 2019 Community Survey reports that 33% of West Hollywood residents identify as gay men, a decline from the 39% in 2013. Four percent identified as lesbian in the 2019 survey. Three percent said they are bisexual. Another three percent said they are “sexually fluid.” And 5% said they didn’t know or didn’t answer the question.
In a June 10 online forum organized by Jasmyne Cannick, one participant claimed that it was hard for Black men to get jobs at bars and clubs in West Hollywood. Another speaker said she had “been called a n-gger three times in my whole life, and two times were here” in West Hollywood. Cannick is known for her campaign for the arrest of Ed Buck, the white gay man active in West Hollywood politics who has been arrested on charges related to the deaths of two Black men from methamphetamine overdoses in his apartment.
Marquita Thomas, a Black lesbian who lives in West Hollywood and heads the Los Angeles LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, described her discomfort during a virtual panel discussion in June that focused on racial injustice. Thomas said she and those campaigning with her felt they were being watched because of their race while campaigning door to door in the affluent West Hollywood West neighborhood. LAist.com, a website that is part of Southern California Public Radio, published a story about the June 14 All Black Lives Matter march that referred to “WeHo’s Whiteness Problem.” And Tod Hallman, a Black man who is a long-time WeHo resident, wrote an op-ed published by WEHOville that called out the gay community for not acknowledging its race issues.
People also have cited incidents of discrimination against transgender people in West Hollywood, where only 4% of the population identifies as Black and none as transgender, although there are a few transgender people living in WeHo. Some also have objected to the use of the word “Boystown” to describe the gay nightlife district on Santa Monica Boulevard from Palm Avenue to Robertson Boulevard. That district has been evolving in recent years, with the closing of some gay male-focused apparel stores and the opening of restaurants and nightclubs that appeal to a largely heterosexual audience of people who follow reality TV.
Ashlee-Marie Preston, a Black transgender female activist, wrote an op-ed for WEHOville in 2017 in which she said she had experienced bigotry and transphobia from the staff while dining at Catch, the restaurant on the roof of the building on the northwest corner of San Vicente Boulevard and Melrose Avenue. Also that year, a Black transgender West Hollywood woman complained of being denied entrance to two prominent local nightclubs, 1 Oak and Hyde on Sunset, in both cases because she was a transgender person. And Don Kilhefner, an iconic gay activist, has been critical of the move by white gay men to preserve and honor the history of Studio One, a gay nightclub on Robertson Boulevard in the 1970s whose owner made it difficult for Black men to enter the club, a practice that led to demonstrations outside the club and a story in the Los Angeles Times about it.
While D’Amico’s criticism of Shyne was sharp, she has been the subject of much more vitriolic remarks. In a post on Facebook, Shyne revealed that she had received hateful comments and a threat during her unsuccessful campaign in 2019. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week two different men sent her messages on social media, one of them calling her a “vile white supremacist Zionist Islamophobe.”