Proud New City Receiving National Attention
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) _ Across the country, gay and lesbian organizations have chosen June as Gay Pride Month, but nowhere does it mean more than in this young city of 35,000 souls - a third of them homosexuals.
Their own Gay Pride Parade on Sunday will celebrate six months of cityhood and a blitz of new laws favoring the rights of gays, renters and senior citizens.
Since West Hollywood seceded from Los Angeles County in an election six months ago, attention has focused heavily on its lesbian mayor, Valerie Terrigno, who admits she has become ″a kind of folk hero″ to gays in less hospitable areas.
″It’s almost embarrassing,″ she says. ″I walk into a room and they give me three standing ovations, and I don’t know what to do.″
The demand for Ms. Terrigno, 31, and two other openly gay council members as speakers at functions far from California has increased each week since they assumed office. All have accepted paid speaking engagements to augment their $400 a month salaries.
″I think there’s a lot of respect for us,″ says Ms. Terrigno. ″Elected officials come to see me and they write letters. They ask to see our ordinances. They’re looking at what we’re doing.″
She says others have set out to emulate West Hollywood’s trailblazing laws. She notes that West Hollywood voted to forbid business relationships with firms having financial ties to South Africa one week before Mayor Tom Bradley of West Hollywood’s giant neighbor, Los Angeles, made a similar announcement.
Among the features of laws already approved are:
-An ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual preference or race. It requires every contractor doing business with the city to sign a pledge of non-discrimination in their hiring practices. ″So far, no one has refused to sign,″ says Ms. Terrigno.
-An ordinance that rolled rents back to last August’s rate and put a ceiling on increases, letting rents rise by only 75 percent of the increase in the consumer price index for the year. Landlords also are limited to a 10 percent rent increase when a tenant vacates.
-A domestic partnership law allows unmarried couples, including homosexuals, to register with the city as partners. The city then seeks to assure them of such ″married″ rights as hospital and prison visitation and insurance coverage.
-A so-called ″open-toed-shoe ordinance″ aimed at bars which have refused to admit men dressed in women’s clothing or gay bars which cater to men but refuse admission to lesbians.
There have also been the more mundane concerns of setting up the new two- square-mile city.
″We’ve had to set up street light districts and sewer districts,″ says Ms. Terrigno. ″We created four new departments. In six months, we’ll have a zoning ordinance ... We’re progressing along very well.″ Her pet project is beautification to make West Hollywood an attractive shopping and dining center, thus increasing city income from sales and hotel taxes.
Her private life has become almost non-existent, Ms. Terrigno concedes.
″I think I’ve become a little boring,″ she says. ″I walk down the street counting trash cans, looking at street lights and how wide the streets are ... No one wants to go out to dinner with me because 50 people will come up and talk to me about the city.
″But I really like that,″ she confesses. ″I didn’t know there would be this much awareness.″
As for the publicity identifying her as a lesbian, she says: ″The fear was worse than the reality for me ... It saves a lot of explanations now.″
She recently returned home to Neptune, N.J., for her brother’s wedding and realized relatives no longer asked: ″When are you getting married?″
″They were very supportive,″ she says. ″Actually, they’re very proud of me.″