All of your favorites, from bartenders to activists and more
Welcome to the inaugural Best Of Gay LA Awards presented by the Los Angeles Blade. There were hundreds of nominations in 25 categories and thousands of votes. Here we present your picks for the best LA has to offer along with editors’ choices in most categories.
JON DAVIDSON / COURTESY OF DAVIDSON
JON DAVIDSON Jon Davidson has been fighting for the rights of the underdog for most of his adult life. An attorney focused on the LGBTQ community and people living with HIV, virtually since graduating from Yale Law School in 1979, Davidson has fought and won some of the most important cases facing LGBT Americans. But, as he says, ultimately it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the long game. “What I’ve learned is that one of the realities of doing the LGBT rights litigation that I’ve spent most of my career doing, is that sometimes you can lose the case, but still win. Because those sorts of cases end up educating people about the things that are wrong,” Davidson told the Los Angeles Blade. He became interested in politics in high school, around the time of Stonewall. He was boycotting grapes and lettuce in support of California farm workers and he protested the Vietnam War. He says he was excited about political change. He started taking cases pro bono. His first big case was no small potatoes. He sued the city of Los Angeles on behalf of homeless people. Not long after, he says, in 1985 a lot of his friends started to get sick. He started looking for a way he could help. Davidson teamed up with attorney and activist Susan McGreevy, who was at the ACLU at the time. She enlisted his help in writing the first brief to the U.S. Supreme Court about AIDS. It was about whether people with contagious diseases could be considered disabled and protected against discrimination under a law called the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The goal was to convince the courts that AIDS was a disabling condition. “At the time, the Reagan administration was arguing that contagious
diseases couldn’t be considered disabilities because that would mean that people with AIDS would be protected from discrimination,” Davidson says. Another local case got a lot of attention when Davidson was working with a gay rights organization that no longer exists, on behalf of a man threatened with eviction for hanging a gay Pride flag off his apartment’s balcony. The building’s argument was that people would think it was a “gay building.” Davidson argued that people put American flags on their balconies, so why not a Pride flag? Davidson left private practice in 1988 to work for the ACLA of Southern California. He was there for eight years, and then joined Lambda Legal, where he worked for more than 20 years. It was Davidson’s work on a case against the Boy Scouts of America that brought much national acclaim. He was the lead lawyer on the Curran v. Mount Diablo Council of the Boy Scouts of America, a case that went to California Supreme Court. He lost the case, but it was part of the fight to get people to understand that the Boy Scouts were engaging in discrimination. Davidson also helped out on the Dale case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the constitutional right to freedom of association allows a private organization like the Boy Scouts, to exclude a person from membership when “the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints.” In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that opposition to homosexuality is part of BSA’s “expressive message” and that allowing homosexuals as adult leaders would interfere with that message. It reversed a decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court, which had determined that New Jersey’s public accommodations law required the BSA to readmit James Dale, who the BSA expelled after Dale went public about being gay. Davidson says despite losing those cases, the suits against the Boy Scouts outed the organization as discriminatory and ultimately led to a lot of pressure on them to change their position – both social and financial pressure. “I used to joke that I’ve spent the bulk of my career fighting for LGBT people to serve in the military, get into the Boy Scouts, serve in the Los Angeles Police Department, and to get married, but I didn’t want to do any of those things. But those are four of the most conservative institutions we have in this country and they all in many ways epitomize being an American citizen,” Davidson says. He and his longtime partner celebrated their 13th anniversary this year, which they count from the time they moved in together. “I believe that an attack on any member of this nation or the world is an attack on all of us. But I decided more than 30 years ago I wanted to put my professional energies into and work on behalf of my community, which I define as the LGBT community and those living with HIV. That’s what spoke to me and where I felt there was a need,” he says. But, he adds, “A big part of the battle is also to remember that our community also includes several other groups who’ve been targets of the Trump administration – poor people, people of color, Muslims, people from other countries, you name it – it’s frightening. Our community needs to address the fact that many of the gains we made didn’t really help those most marginalized in our community.” (REBEKAH SAGER)
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Losangelesblade.com, Volume 2, Issue 2, January 26, 2018