Women’s Advisory Board Vice Chairperson Jenner Deal on the unique, oft-overlooked set of challenges faced by women in WeHo — and by lesbians, in particular
Jenner Deal’s legacy in West Hollywood, according to her, started when she became the “lesbian tampon crusader.”
It all began with a giant bucket of condoms at a City Council meeting — free for any (male) member of the public who wanted one, unlike the $0.50 tampons available for purchase in the women’s rooms.
“I thought, ‘If we really stand for gender equity in the city and we really want to support women’s health too, we should even the playing field,'” Deal said.
Thus began a months-long effort to make tampons as free and widely available as the giveaway condoms, an endeavor which served as a crash course in how things get done in WeHo City Hall.
Deal, who leads Buzzfeed’s social media video production teams, is now serving a third term on the Women’s Advisory Board; during her last term she served as Chairperson, and on Thursday, her colleagues chose her to be Vice Chairperson. She’s proud to have earned the trust and confidence of the board, which is filled with many brand new members.
Deal spoke to WEHOville on a wide range of topics, including what it’s like to be a woman in West Hollywood, her thoughts on the “lesbian erasure” that’s happening and what she thinks about gender-neutral bathrooms.
How did you manage to get West Hollywood to pass the free tampon proposal? And what’s ahead for the program?
I did a lot of stalking by Lauren Meister’s house, walking my dog. (Laughs).
Now I want to see that program go even further and take it into places outside of city facilities like the Abbey and restaurants around town.
I kind of looked at it as a pilot program.
A lot of eyes are on West Hollywood all of the time Using it as an opportunity to influence other progressive cities and what they have in their wheelhouse to offer.
Was there a lot of push back when you pitched the idea?
It wasn’t really even on anybody’s radar.
We live in BoysTown, and they’re very focused on “not-menstruation products.”
The flip side of that is you have women in positions of power and boards and commissions and various positions — they’re not really focused on that either.
They generally tend to be older and past menstruation age and it’s not really their concern.
And to be honest a lot of it too was, like, if you live, play or work in West Hollywood, you can afford tampons. That wasn’t really the big driving force.
It’s that we have this huge homeless initiative in our city, a huge homeless crisis, and this was more for homeless women living in our city that need access to these products.
We have a pretty great team that works with the city and the sheriff’s department that goes out and they have really good rapport and relationships with the homeless citizens in our city.
They offer kits and usually those kits have feminine hygiene products in them.
But I really wanted this to be something that was easily and readily accessible in our city like from the library to city hall to parks, facilities, etc.
What more could WeHo do as a trendsetting progressive city to better serve women?
I think we we talk a lot of talk that we’re like this big progressive city, and I think that the intention is there and it’s good-hearted and we want to support women.
but like for example we’ll go on the record as a city supporting state legislation around breastfeeding facilities in businesses that have over 50 employees, but we don’t have a single breastfeeding facility in the city.
There aren’t dedicated breastfeeding facilities for working moms in city hall or anywhere else in the city for that matter.
These things are delicate issues because breastfeeding when you’re working or you’re out and about,you have to have a private space that has to be lockable.
You have to have an outlet if you have a pump with you so you can plug it in.
There’s refrigeration to store milk if you’re pumping at work.
All of these things are really important and it’s a talking point on the progressive agenda side but it’s not really implemented in execution.
So I’d love to see us actually walk the walk with some of these pieces of legislation that we’re supporting, from menstruation products and access to women’s mental health and physical health.
We offer so much in terms of free HIV testing and all of that in West Hollywood.
But you don’t really do it on the flip side for women breastfeeding and women’s safety and access to going out and playing in West Hollywood.
I can’t tell you the amount of times that I’ve been rejected from Revolver or Mickey’s or Rage or whatever just simply because I’m a woman and I’m trying to get in.
That’s kind of shocking to hear. Is that even legal?
No, but they’ll hide behind “oh we think you’re drunk,” even though I haven’t had a drink yet. They’ll come up with some sort of excuse.
And this isn’t new to the gay community, but I think that now that gender is more and more of a conversation in some of the things that we’re looking at, it’s become even more prevalent.
We also have an incredible report that the city put together. It says like 48 to 51 percent of people of identify as gay men in the city and only three percent identify as lesbians in the city so you see this huge stark contrast between even gay women in the city and how they’re treated not not even discussing all women in the city.
So there’s quite a discrepancy when it comes to a lot of things with women specifically in West Hollywood.
Why do you think that discrepancy exists, especially in an inclusive place like this?
I think there’s a lot of factors to be honest.
I think there’s like three lesbian bars in the entire United States left and now with COVID and everything .. I mean we don’t even have lesbian nights in the city anymore.
So there isn’t really anywhere for women to feel comfortable and safe, to congregate together, It’s either straight people going on a Saturday night at the Abbey or it’s gay men predominantly.
The other thing is, women make 72 cents to the dollar on a man. If you have a household with two men and you have a household with two women, they’re making half of what the household with two men is making.
So the price of living and gentrification is also pushing women out of West Hollywood as residents and we don’t have any lesbian rental assistance programs or anything to encourage women to stay here and live here and to support them.
Women want to feel comfortable too.
Women are more family focused and they want to eventually settle down and raise a family and and we don’t have any schools here, we don’t have a middle school in West Hollywood.
So there’s things like that that influence comfortability ,convenience around lifestyle and it’s just not catered to them.
And so I think what we really need to do is think about how could we cater this city better to women and to lesbians and support them in their in their life phases and as they change from their 20s and going out and partying to their 30s and starting to settle down and get more serious and all the way to the aging in place initiative, and not getting driven out by rising rents and having assistance programs in that way.
And and this is true too for like gay men. A lot of queer people, they don’t necessarily have families once they get older, and so how are we as a city supporting our elder LGBTQ population too?
What do you think about gender-neutral bathrooms ?
I don’t really have an issue with it.
I think it’s fine but it definitely isn’t catering to women’s comfortability.
Something that’s happened with West Hollywood is that West Hollywood isn’t just a gay city anymore, it’s a very coveted place to come in L.A. and a lot of people have picked up on that.
So as it becomes more and more trendy and popular to go out and eat and dance and drink in West Hollywood, it attracts people that aren’t as on board with our progressive agenda like gender bathrooms, being inclusive of all gender identities and stuff.
It creates an opportunity for straight men that are coming to pick up girls at the Abbey that are now in the same bathroom with a lesbian and she feels really uncomfortable.
And then it’s like nobody’s space anymore. You have a straight guy coming in to the bathroom and he’s there like to meet straight women and then you have like a lesbian who’s at the Abbey with her friends and she’s trying to have a good time and then it turns into a conversation of like “Oh I’m gonna try and turn you into a real woman” or whatever.
It just it makes it really uncomfortable in my experience as a lesbian in the city.
It tends to push lesbians towards “hey let’s just have a house party instead of go out in West Hollywood ”.
I don’t want to speak for most lesbians but I would say I think there’s a place for gender-neutral bathrooms and I don’t know that Rocco’s and the Abbey and these spaces that we’re trying to make more comfortable for women and more safe for women are necessarily the place to have a gender-neutral bathroom.
It serves an amazing purpose but like if you’re talking about a bunch of drunk people out on aSaturday night, maybe that’s not the best place for a gender neutral bathroom.
What’s the journey been like from your first term through today?
It’s funny I actually got into the board because I was helping a lesbian, her name is Catherine Gray and she used to put on a conference in the city called Live Love Thrive.
It was hosted at the city chambers and it was like a daylong kind of conference thing for women to empower women and that sort of turned into helping women find investors for their business because less than two percent of funding goes to women.
So I was helping with that event and her and her branding and running the event and she had gone to the women’s advisory board for support for co-sponsorship of the event and to allow the event to happen in the chambers and stuff so that was my introduction to the board.
I went with her once to the board to ask if they would support it and then worked closely with them during the conference.
Lots of the board members would show up in solidarity and so I got to know them and we were talking during the event one day and they were like “there’s an open seat, actually you should apply for it, you’ll be amazing.”
And I hadn’t really thought about that before.
I wasn’t really on track to be in civil service or anything but I was like, you know what, that’s an interesting thought, I wonder what I could do on this board to help.
I’m a woman here in West Hollywood and I’m helping put on this a women’s empowerment event led by a lesbian and obviously there’s an opportunity here.
I was appointed by John D’Amico and got on the board and I think that the the tampon crusade that I launched on was really a learning curve because there’s a lot of bureaucracy and unless you’re just super fire passionate about getting something past and through it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
On the board it’s a lot of just like programming and being visible in the community and especially now with COVID that’s really changed.
I think that there’s this hunger now to ask, “OK what are we actually getting accomplished? What are we actually doing here as a board besides just having this fun women in leadership awards event or some sort of Saturday two-hour event in the park? What are we actually doing to make tangible change happen in the city?”
And I’m not saying I’m the first to do it on the board at all but it was quite a lesson .
If you really want to make something happen you gotta pull out all the stops, you gotta get the staff on your side, you gotta get as many council members on your side, you gotta really strong arm everyone to do this and focus on it or else it’ll just get lost in the paper shuffle.
What is the board working on right now that is most crucial?
Our board is brand new.
We had a lot of members leave for various reasons especially during COVID and so we have a lot of brand new faces. And so it’s kind of like a time will tell situation right now.
Our retreat board meeting last night was the first time that we really got to get a sense of “what is everyone’s passion? what are they focused on?”
It seems to me that the big focus is on making it feel more safe for women.
A lot of the board members themselves have experienced safety issues at parks or walking down the street or trying to go out in West Hollywood.
So it seems like that’s like a pretty big issue that’s close to home for a lot of the board members currently on the board and I would imagine that we’re going to go pretty hard on women’s safety in the next two years.
What’s your plan for the upcoming Ivy Bottini Day?
My idea for the event — I’m on the subcommittee with the LGAB to organize some sort ofprogramming around it — was to bring back lesbian ‘Zine culture.
A lot of it too is like for me I’m personally invested in it because of all of the lesbian erasurethat’s going on right now.
There isn’t really a space for lesbians.
There aren’t really dedicated nights for lesbians.
There’s not a lot of visibility.
We have three percent lesbians in the city. I don’t know a lot of lesbians that live in West Hollywood.
There’s definitely like zero focus right now on lesbian visibility.
There’s a lot of focus on trans visibility as there should be and there’s a lot of continued focus on gay male visibility but very rarely do you see or hear or participate in anything dedicated to lesbians.
I think my personal focus moving forward on the board is definitely going to be around lesbian visibility.
I’m the last lesbian on the board at this point so I definitely want to stop this erasure and continue fighting and creating spaces that feel safe to lesbians.