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Southern California -- this just in

Category: Gay rights

Lesbian LAPD officers settle harassment suit for $1.25 million

The Los Angeles City Council approved a $1.25-million payout Wednesday to a lesbian LAPD officer and a lesbian retired officer to settle claims by the women that they were subjected to repeated sexual harassment by a supervisor.

The agreement marks the latest in a long string of six- and seven-figure settlements and jury awards the city has had to pay in cases of discrimination, retaliation and other workplace strife that LAPD officers bring against one another with some frequency.

In a 11-1 vote, the council signed off on the payout to avoid a trial in a lawsuit filed in 2011 by now-retired Officer Linda Gotham and Officer Lynn Whitey.

The two women, both openly gay, were assigned to the department's Van Nuys Division in 2010, where they were supervised by Sgt. Randy Hoffmaster, a 25-year veteran of the force.

On several occasions over the course of the year, the women charged in court documents, Hoffmaster made vulgar sexual comments and propositions to them. Their repeated complaints about Hoffmaster to more senior officials led to nothing, the women said in the lawsuit.

Matthew McNicholas, the women's attorney, said Gotham had had to deal with uncomfortable, inappropriate comments and situations as a closeted sailor in the Navy.

"This woman does not have thin skin, and so it means something that she finally said, 'Enough, is enough, is enough,' " McNicholas said.

After the officers filed their lawsuit, department officials opened an internal investigation into their claims against Hoffmaster, McNicholas said. The findings have not been made public, but according to McNicholas, Hoffmaster resigned at the conclusion of the inquiry.

Hoffmaster could not be reached for comment. Lt. Andy Neiman, a spokesman for the department, confirmed that Hoffmaster no longer works for the LAPD, but declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.

Along with the findings of the LAPD's investigation, the women's claims were supported by other officers who witnessed the abuse and who were prepared to testify against Hoffmaster at a trial, McNicholas said.

The apparent failure of department officials to address the women's complaints until after a lawsuit was filed underscores an ongoing struggle within the LAPD. For the past year, top police officials and the civilian board that oversees the force have come under increasing pressure to improve the department's ability to quickly and effectively resolve workplace conflicts before they result in costly litigation.

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Hesperia school accused of discrimination against gay, lesbian students

A San Bernardino County school district faces legal action for alleged discrimination against gay and lesbian students, including its alleged refusal to allow girls to wear tuxedos to the upcoming prom.

The Hesperia Unified School District was notified of pending litigation in a letter Monday from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. The ACLU typically warns government agencies of looming legal action to give them time to make changes.

The letter makes specific allegations against the faculty and administration of Sultana High School. It recounts “persistent censorship” of activities and announcements by the Gay-Straight Alliance club.

“Indeed, the club’s very name has typically been truncated from ‘Gay-Straight Alliance’ to ‘GSA’ when morning announcements are read over the intercom, with the words ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘bisexual,’ ‘transgender,’ and ‘queer’ omitted entirely,” the attorneys’ letter reads.

One announcement was submitted as: “Do you identify as straight, lesbian, bisexual, gay, or are you questioning everything? Come join Sultana’s Gay-Straight Alliance on Wednesdays at lunch in room W-11. Join a group of students here on campus that support each other and want to make a difference for others.” The announcement was allegedly broadcast instead as: “GSA meeting in W-11.”

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Renaming SFO after Harvey Milk might be less pricey than thought

Supporters hold signs with the image of slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk during a rally at San Francisco City Hall. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The effort to rename San Francisco International Airport after slain civil rights hero Harvey Milk got a little wind under its wings this week, when the city's legislative analyst reported that the cost would be just a fraction of earlier estimates.

After Supervisor David Campos announced that he wanted to name SFO in honor of Milk, airport officials said the price tag would be around $4.1 million, including the cost of changing freeway signs leading up to the busy hub.

Campos had long disagreed with the airport's figures, arguing that they were too high. According to SFGate.com,  the new analyst report said the name change cost "could end up being as little as $355,000 if only the signature name sign on the International Terminal is changed."

As SFGate reported:

“This shows that the numbers put out by the airport are definitely exaggerated,” Campos said. “It’s disappointing that the airport estimated the cost without actually calling Caltrans.”

Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said the airport did not have a comment on the report until officials had a chance to review it.

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Photo: Supporters hold signs with the image of slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk during a rally at San Francisco City Hall. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Californians weigh in on White House urging justices to reject Prop. 8

The Obama administration's urging Supreme Court justices to strike down California's voter-passed law barring same-sex marriage indicates to the justices that "this is an issue whose time had come," said Alan Acosta, director of strategic initiatives for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.

Acosta was not surprised by the White House weighing in on the California case, he said. "It makes sense that at this critical moment when the highest court in the land is going to rule on this that you would want to be on the right side of this debate and be on the right side of history."

In a brief filed with the high court late Thursday, the administration said: "Tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify a discriminatory law."

"The designation of marriage," the brief notes, "conveys a message to society that domestic partnerships or civil unions cannot match."

People in California, particularly those in the LGBT community, are "focused like a laser" on the high court case, Acosta said.

California, he said, is a "leader in social and political trends." If gay marriage is allowed in the state, it "will have a ripple effect" throughout the country, he said.

Acosta said he does not tire of hearing news about the president's support of gay rights.

"After decades of having only bad news about our community, it's really sort of a celebration every time there's good news," he said. "I don't think people would ever be tired of that given just how many challenges we've faced in the last few generations."

The White House was not required to get involved in the California case, but the administration was heavily lobbied by gay rights groups that have orchestrated a series of briefs on their side by business leaders, prominent Republicans and other groups.

The decision to file a brief came after several weeks of hesitation and internal debate and marked the latest step in President Obama's self-described evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage.

West Hollywood resident Scott Schmidt, a gay Republican, also said he was not surprised by the White House brief. He said he was glad to see Obama shared the views of Dick Cheney, the former vice president, who has said he support same-sex marriage.

"Whether Democrats or Republicans, people need to see someone that they can relate to making the case" for gay rights, said Schmidt, a member of the Los Angeles chapter of Log Cabin Republicans. "We welcome the president being on board."

"If you believe in limited government and personal responsibility," he said, "then you should come to the conclusion that gays and lesbians shouldn't be treated any differently."

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Clint Eastwood backs gay marriage in Supreme Court brief

A same-sex marriage proponent holds a flag in front of the Supreme Court on Nov. 30, 2012. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Clint Eastwood is among a group of Republicans urging the U.S. Supreme Court to back gay marriage.

The American Foundation of Human Rights released a "friend of the court" brief to the Supreme Court signed by more than 80 Republicans, including Eastwood, the actor and former Carmel, Calif., mayor. Other signatories from California included Mary Bono Mack, the former Palm Springs congresswoman, and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman.

“The support for marriage equality demonstrated by this amicus brief represents a microcosm of what we see happening all across the country,” the foundation's executive director, Adam Umhoefer, said in a statement. “Americans are united behind the concepts of freedom, dignity and strong families."

FULL COVERAGE: California's gay marriage ban

A new Field Poll showed record support in California for same-sex unions.

  "By a nearly two-to-one margin (61% to 32%), California voters approve of allowing same-sex couples to marry," according to the poll. "This represents a complete reversal in views about the issue from 1977, when the Field Poll conducted its first survey on the topic, and is the highest level of support ever measured by the poll" 

The poll noted that in 1977, 28% approved of gay marriage while 59% disapproved. In 2006, the issue had 44% approval and 50% disapproval.

Interactive map: Track rights for same-sex couples

On Wednesday, California’s top law enforcement officer told the U.S. Supreme Court that Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage should be overturned because its sole purpose was to “strip loving relationships of validation and dignity under the law,” according to an amicus brief.

In the brief, California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris also argued that the proponents of Proposition 8 -- California's voter-approved measure limiting marriage to a man and a woman -- did not have legal standing to appeal the federal district court decision that overturned the 2008 ballot measure.

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'Record majority' in California backs same-sex marriage, poll finds

A same-sex marriage proponent holds a gay marriage pride flag in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 30, 2012. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

As state officials make their case for gay marriage, a new Field Poll showed record support in California for same sex unions.

California A.G. backs gay marriage in Supreme Court brief "By a nearly two-to-one margin (61% to 32%), California voters approve of allowing same-sex couples to marry," according to the poll. This represents a complete reversal in views about the issue from 1977, when the Field Poll conducted its first survey on the topic, and is the highest level of support ever measured by the poll.

The poll noted that in 1977 only  28% approved of gay marriage while 59% disapproved. In 2006, it had 44% approval and 50% disapproval.

DOCUMENT: Read the amicus brief

On Wednesday, California’s top law enforcement officer told the U.S. Supreme Court that Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage should be overturned because its sole purpose was to “strip loving relationships of validation and dignity under the law,” according to an amicus brief.

In a friend of the court brief, California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris also argued that the proponents of Proposition 8 — California's voter-approved measure limiting marriage to a man and a woman — did not have legal standing to appeal the federal district court decision that overturned the 2008 ballot measure.

After years of litigation in lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments about the constitutionality of the ban next month. The court could decide whether the Constitution's promise of equal treatment gives gays and lesbians a right to marry. But the justices also left themselves the option to rule narrowly or even to duck a decision.

TIMELINE: Gay marriage chronology

Harris said that ProtectMarriage, the sponsor of the ban, lacked standing under federal law because it wasn’t hurt by same-sex marriage and had no authority to enforce laws. State officials have refused to defend Proposition 8 and did not appeal a district court judge’s 2010 ruling that found the measure unconstitutional.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found ProtectMarriage had standing but also decided last year that the measure was unconstitutional. The appeals court ruled 2-1 that a majority may not take away a minority's rights without legitimate reasons.

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Prop. 8: California A.G. backs gay marriage in Supreme Court brief

A same-sex marriage proponent holds a gay marriage pride flag in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 30. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

California’s top law enforcement officer told the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday that Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage should be overturned because its sole purpose was to “strip loving relationships of validation and dignity under the law,” according to an amicus brief.

California A.G. backs gay marriage in Supreme Court brief

In a friend of the court brief, Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris also argued that the proponents of Proposition 8 — California's voter-approved measure limiting marriage to a man and a woman — did not have legal authority or “standing” to appeal a federal district court decision overturning the 2008 ballot measure.

After years of litigation in lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments about the constitutionality of the ban next month. The court could decide whether the Constitution's promise of equal treatment gives gays and lesbians a right to marry. But the justices also left themselves the option to rule narrowly or even to duck a decision.

DOCUMENT: Read the amicus brief

Harris said that ProtectMarriage, the sponsors of the ban, lacked standing under federal law because they weren’t hurt by same-sex marriage and have no authority to enforce laws. State officials have refused to defend Proposition 8 and did not appeal a district court judge’s 2010 ruling that found the measure unconstitutional.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found ProtectMarriage had standing but also decided last year that the measure was unconstitutional.  The appeals court ruled 2-1 in a narrow decision that a majority may not take away a minority's rights without legitimate reasons.

If the high court agrees ProtectMarriage has standing, the court should strike down the ban because it served no valid state purpose,  Harris’ office argued.

TIMELINE: Gay marriage chronology

“The fact that same-sex couples cannot conceive a biological child is not a legitimate reason to deny them civil marriage,” the attorney general argued. “ A biological distinction is not alone sufficient to satisfy the Equal Protection Clause; rather, that difference must be related to some legitimate governmental interest.”

The argument by backers of Proposition 8 that it promotes California’s interest in having a child reared by a man and a woman “falsely assumes that California law prefers children to be raised by their biological parents,” the brief said.

“The state’s interest in protecting children, including the over 40,000 children in California being raised by same-sex parents, is poorly served by allowing so many of them to grow up feeling inferior because their family unit is not validated and honored by law,” Harris argued.

It continued: "California’s interests in protecting all of its children — and their basic dignity and understanding of fairness and justice — are best served by allowing same-sex couples to enjoy the same benefits of marriage as opposite-sex couples."

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Photo: A same-sex marriage proponent holds a gay marriage pride flag in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 30. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Meg Whitman signs legal brief backing gay marriage in Prop. 8 case

Meg Whitman on election night in November 2010.

Former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman confirmed Tuesday that she had signed a legal brief supporting same-sex marriage, saying her views on Proposition 8 had changed "after careful review and reflection" and that "the time has come" for marriage equality.

The Hewlett-Packard CEO was one of dozens of prominent Republicans who, according to The New York Times, has signed an amicus curie brief supporting a lawsuit seeking to strike down Proposition 8, California's voter-approved state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. After years of litigation in lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments about the constitutionality of the ban next month.

In a statement posted on LinkedIn, Whitman explained her new stance on same-sex marriage -- when running for governor in 2008, she supported Proposition 8.

"At the time, I believed the people of California had weighed in on this question and that overturning the will of the people was the wrong approach," Whitman wrote. "The facts and arguments presented during the legal process since then have had a profound impact on my thinking."

Whitman wrote that there is "no legitimate, fact-based reason for providing different legal treatment of committed relationships between same-sex couples," calling marriage "the fundamental institution that unites a society."

"It is the single greatest contributor to the well-being of adults and children because it promotes eternal principles like commitment, fidelity and stability," she wrote. "It makes no different whether the marriage is between a man and woman or a woman and woman. Marriage makes society better."

She continued: "Laws like California's Proposition 8 do not fortify traditional marriage, they merely prevent hundreds of thousands of children of same-sex couples from enjoying the benefits that accrue from marriage.... Same-sex couples and their children should have equal access to the benefits of marriage."

In a statement, Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the Los Angeles-based American Foundation for Equal Rights, hailed the support of Whitman and other Republicans.

"We value the support of our conservative colleagues and welcome their voices to the growing majority of Americans who stand for marriage equality," Umhoefer said.

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Photo: Meg Whitman on election night in November 2010. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times

After Tet parade snub, LGBT groups ask for city intervention

Minh Tran holds up protest sign during last weekend's Tet parade in Little Saigon. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times

After being kept out of this year's Tet parade, LGBT groups are asking Westminster officials to push back by attaching a no-discrimination clause to permits granted for special events.

Activists attended the Westminster City Council meeting Wednesday, pushing to make sure they aren't excluded from next year's Lunar New Year parade in the heart of Orange County's Vietnamese community.

"We knew we would tackle this subject after the holiday. We have to keep the momentum going," said Natalie Newton, spokeswoman for the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organizations.

Partnership leaders plan to meet with each council member to pitch their ideas. They also have questions for officials: Who might run the nation's only Tet parade in the future? How can a detailed vetting process be created, outlining who can or cannot be in charge of the event?

Councilwoman Margie Rice told the group she had talked to this year's event organizers, urging them to include the LGBT entry. Councilman Sergio Contreras said neither he nor his colleagues "support what happened" when the gay participants were not welcomed to march in this past weekend's parade.

While Contreras thought that the event was successful -- it drew thousands of residents and tourists to the city's premier destination, Little Saigon -- he promised to "figure out ways" the exclusion "won't happen in the future."

The parade was run entirely by private organizers this year, after the city determined if did not have the money to help sponsor the long-running event.

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LGBT community sidelined from Tet parade but undeterred

Photo: Tolan Ngyen holds a sign in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups who were not allowed to march in the Tet parade sponsored by the Union of the Vietnamese Student Association of Southern California in Westminster on Sunday. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

They stood on the sidelines near the stage, waving wildly beneath six giant hearts, with signs shouting out their love.

LGBT members told to "sacrifice" and stay out of the Tet parade in Westminster on Sunday let their passion speak for their presence. They shared rainbow leis with supporters. They reached out to embrace those who ran up to offer support.

Organizers of the Lunar New Year event would not let them march. And their allies, such as the Union of Vietnamese Student Assns. of Southern California, found out the day before the event that they couldn't let the gay organizations join their entries as guests. 

"In the end, it didn't matter. We were so overwhelmed by the reaction of the people," said Natalie Newton, spokeswoman for the Partnership of Viet Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organizations, which united 250 of its supporters to attend. "We had politicians popping out of their cars to shake our hands. We had ordinary people coming by to shake our hands. We didn't expect any of it. But we were visible. Everyone knew who we were."

Khai Dao, a columnist and activist from Westminster at the parade, said "I absolutely want LGBT involvement" in the holiday gathering. We respect everybody's lifestyle choice. If organizers raise money from the community, then the event should be for everyone in the community."

The Rancho Alamitos Vaqueros marching band, from Garden Grove, performed a special number for the LGBT groups. Children waved South Vietnamese flags, clapping along. With a spot of rain, the turnout this year in Little Saigon proved a few thousand smaller than the usual 10,000 spectators, according to participants.

That's partly because the event fell on the first day of the Lunar New Year, a time, like Christmas morning, when folks may be at home celebrating with family.

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