Being a woman in West Hollywood means fighting for visibility

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.

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Maria
Maria
2 months ago

West Hollywood hasn’t had “space” for a lot of things for a long time. Parking Meter schemes, stupidly high drink prices, obnoxious straight people who get loud drunk and fighty. Add now to that this “what about me” tripe. Maybe she should go to Boyle Heights and complain that there’s no enough deference to white yuppies. Or UCLA to complain about its clear “student bias.” Long ago West Hollywood was very male and gay. Now it’s anything but.

WeHo Mary!
WeHo Mary!
2 months ago

I really agree with the free tampon idea, but I think comparing it to free condoms is the wrong approach because it’s divisive. I would say, toilet paper is provided for free, why not feminine hygiene products? In general, I think she’s harmless, but I get the impression that she missed out on the Bikini Kill era of riot grrrls and zines, and all that spoiled college girl angst/drama, and is trying to become part of it. She should look at another moment in history to understand where some of these other commenters are coming from, and why they’re hurt.… Read more »

Hollywood NOW
2 months ago

Congratulations, Jenner, on becoming Vice Chair of the City’s Women’s Advisory Board. We look forward to seeing you continue your leadership journey and use your voice to bring equity and accountability to the City for the benefit of women. Who is the fastest growing population in West Hollywood? Women aged 25-44! According to the City’s most recent Report on the Status of Women, “As the population changes in West Hollywood, more women in the 25 to 44 year age group are moving in … This age distribution became more pronounced during the ten-year period between 2000 and 2010, when the… Read more »

The Real Deal
The Real Deal
2 months ago
Reply to  Hollywood NOW

National Organization for Women, Hollywood Chapter!!!!!…….You mean the organization with a male former president?????

William Seegmiller
2 months ago
Reply to  Hollywood NOW

Currently, jurisdictions such as in Washington state are being challenged to dedicate commensurate resources to a Commission on the Status of Men and Boys… and for very good reason! – Men are the group overwhelming impacted when we talk about bias in policing and mass incarceration. – The CDC has shown that since 2014 more men are victims of Domestic Violence than women. – Data consistently confirms that men have the worst mental health outcomes and the highest risk of suicide. – The system and society are blind to the crisis of missing and murdered boys and men (like sex… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by William Seegmiller
John K
John K
2 months ago

The issue of supplying tampons because free condoms have been provided is illustrative of many of your discussions. Condoms protected both men and women. They were quite literally life saving. Tampons are a personal hygiene product.

Other issues such as discrimination, cost of living in WeHo, etc affect many people visiting and living in WeHo.

Peter Buckley
Peter Buckley
2 months ago

Don’t understand how you can compare the life saving safety of free condoms with the inconvenience of tampons. Very silly.

WehoFan
WehoFan
2 months ago

White attractive and can afford living in Weho – She’s not a victim.

Hera
Hera
2 months ago

Jenner is exactly right and props to her. My first stroll as a new WeHo resident brought me face-to-face with a t-shirt that had a saying on it that was derogatory towards women out on the sidewalk at a male-owned shop. From there, I experienced repeated disrespect from the gay males (singly and as a pack) in my apartment building. The fact is, few men genuinely seek to truly understand the plight of women in society; they always want to out-victim the victims instead. And gay men in particular, perhaps due to insecurity from being ostracized by society, are particularly… Read more »

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago
Reply to  Hera

My “radar” for the Perpetually Offended is up and I’m doubting this actually happened. You may have convinced yourself it did, but …..

Jason
Jason
2 months ago
Reply to  Gimmeabreak

My dude, you DO realize that this is gaslighting (denying her/their reality) and you’re basically validating everything women are saying by doing this, don’t you? Lol.

Hollywood NOW
2 months ago
Reply to  Jason

Props to you for calling this out.

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago
Reply to  Hollywood NOW

Nah! Let’s try being rational adults for a while. We might find that things go better when we do.

WehoFan
WehoFan
2 months ago
Reply to  Jason

Her ‘reality’ doesn’t make it true. Lol.

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago
Reply to  WehoFan

Exactly!

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago
Reply to  Jason

Sorry, dude, I don’t accept your/her/their reality. I believe in REALITY! It is or it isn’t! In this case … it ISN’T! We can’t adjust to accommodate everybody’s perceived reality when the problem is actually themselves. How about we all stop defining ourselves as a victim of something-or-other and just get on with it. Sometimes you just have to play the hand you’re dealt and move on.

JJ1
JJ1
1 month ago
Reply to  Gimmeabreak

Victimhood is in. And we’ve given it power. So now everyone claims to be a victim.

Rodrigo
Rodrigo
2 months ago
Reply to  Hera

Sure, Jan.

Ham Shipey
Ham Shipey
2 months ago

Such a strange city.

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago

1.) Providing free condoms is in the interest of saving lives. That hardly compares to expecting free tampons. 2.) Lesbian erasure? Who is making you feel unwelcome? Have you been denied housing or not been allowed to open a business? If so, that is against the law. 3.) Maybe WeHo doesn’t have breastfeeding stations because there are so few breasts in WeHo. And the breasts we DO have aren’t likely to be used for feeding. 4.) You don’t feel safe? Safe from whom? The gay males aren’t going to sexually assault you. We all feel less safe because of the… Read more »

Long Time Resident
Long Time Resident
2 months ago
Reply to  Gimmeabreak

Dear, women earn less doing the exact same jobs as men. Where have you been?

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago

I haven’t been drinking the Kool-Aid.

If that is happening it is against the law, or it could be a case of a man having more seniority and is being paid more for greater years of service.

Last edited 2 months ago by Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago
Reply to  Gimmeabreak

(continuing from my unfinished comment above:) Don’t look to Lilly Ledbetter (Goodyear Tire) as an example to make your point. That woman’s job performance was so poor she was lucky to have a job at all. Unfortunately, her employers didn’t keep good records of her job performance. 7.) You say yourself that there are very few lesbians in West Hollywood, so what is it you want the city to do about that? What do you want the city to do to make them more visible? Apparently most lesbians don’t want to live in WeHo. I really don’t get the point… Read more »

Hollywood NOW
2 months ago
Reply to  Gimmeabreak

The misogyny is palpable.

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago
Reply to  Hollywood NOW

Could you be specific? What do you find misogynistic in what I said?

Facts please
Facts please
2 months ago
Reply to  Gimmeabreak

Your assumptions about the types of jobs women work are dated and slant toward your narrative. Corporate jobs pay women less for the same work and have been for years. Women’s roles as executives and managers are also lower but have reached 39% in recent years despite women representing 50% of the population. And your explanations that women travel less and take time off to raise families are equally dated. June Cleaver called and wants her apron back. The anti-wage discrimination law passed in 1963. It has helped close the gap but it will continue to take time to cycle… Read more »

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago
Reply to  Facts please

I finished my thought when I continued it in another comment. No, I have no dislike for women and I don’t think men should have been provided free condoms by the city. I was told that some gay bars provided free condoms, which is fine because they are privately owned businesses. I worked for a company that required travel for some employees and few of the women wanted those positions, even though they paid more. That is a trend in most companies. As I said, most women have not prepared for jobs that are higher paying. If your figure is… Read more »

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago
Reply to  Facts please

Another way men make more money is that they are willing to work more hours. Even without childcare issues factored in that more likely affects women’s availability, men work more hours than women.

William Seegmiller
2 months ago
Reply to  Hollywood NOW

Let’s address the context of this info, please. The 2021 Gender Pay Gap Report includes this; “The controlled gender pay gap, which controls for job title, years of experience, education, industry, location and other compensable factors, measures equal pay for equal work. The controlled pay gap has also decreased since 2015, but only by $0.01. Women in the controlled group make $0.98 for every $1.00 a man makes” So, just by controlling for some factors and definitely not all factors (e.g., how did they weigh the “death premium” from the fact that men are 92% of all workplace fatalities?), they… Read more »

William Seegmiller
2 months ago

Thanks Jennifer for your thoughtful and practical take on gender neutral bathrooms. It’s sad that this issue is so often a lightening rod for all sorts of reactive politics.

I’d love to see Lesbian nights/clubs come back to WeHo. They are sorely missed by all!!

Last edited 2 months ago by William Seegmiller
Ruth Williams
Ruth Williams
2 months ago

I’m sure I’ll get some “flack” about my comments but why are we reverting to labels again? What about people being people, women are women and men are men, regardless of color, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation? I remember when people would refer to us as the “gay city” and yet it was the gay community that came out loudest as saying this is a city and not to be labeled. What about women who reach a certain age and are not being chosen because some may feel they are too “old” or not the right color? What about the… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Ruth Williams
Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
2 months ago
Reply to  Ruth Williams

Ruth, we live in a world where we create division through labels. It’s all a psychological manipulation by competing interests in the who’s the bigger victim game.

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

Very well said! It seems that some people’s identity is defined mostly by their victim status.

JJ1
JJ1
1 month ago
Reply to  Gimmeabreak

That is also so true.

Ruth Williams
Ruth Williams
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

Hi Alan, nice to “see” you . hope all is well… stay safe!!!

JJ1
JJ1
1 month ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

So true.

hifi5000
hifi5000
2 months ago

I think the big problems for lesbians and women in general in the city is that West Hollywood is seen as a gay-male only enclave.The two disrespectful comments on here points to attitudes that are the problem.

Until that change in attitude takes place,you will continue to see the downgrading of women in the city.

Gimmeabreak
Gimmeabreak
2 months ago
Reply to  hifi5000

HUH? How are women being downgraded in WeHo? Are they being denied housing or not being allowed to open a business? Please be specific in what ways women here are not getting something they’re entitled to or are being discriminated against.

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