The Queerty Interview

James Duke Mason Gives Us Hope For Young LGBT People, Runs For Political Office

James Duke Mason 2If you needed any evidence that gay kids are going to grow up in a world that would have been unrecognizable a decade ago, look no further than James Duke Mason, a young spitfire running for West Hollywood City Council.

You may know Duke, as he’s generally known, from the opinion pieces he’s written for various queer publications, such as this one for Queerty. Or his work as board member for L.A.’s Outfest. Or for the gay-themed film he appeared in, What Happens Next. Or his campaigning for Obama and Hillary.

Or you might simply know him for who his parents are: His mother happens to be pop singer Belinda Carlisle, and his father is Morgan Mason, a film producer who served as President Reagan’s Chief of Protocol. (Despite being political polar opposites, they set their differences aside when they fell in love in the ’80s and remain together and supportive of their son.)

But you should probably get to know Duke’s name now, since you’ll likely be hearing lots more about him.

James Duke Mason 4He’s nonchalantly out of the closet in two industries that cling to closets: entertainment and politics. While politicians and actors once wrung their hands about coming out, Duke represents a new generation that simply doesn’t understand why the closet is even a thing.

But that wasn’t always the case, even for the 23-year-0ld. “When I came out when I was 14, I basically abandoned the idea of being involved in politics and public service,” he told Queerty. He was fresh off his first foray into politics when his mother had signed him up for “Kids for Kerry” at the age of 12.

“I knew about how few openly gay actors there were,” he recalls. “I was also aware of how few openly gay politicians there were. After I came out for a little while, I didn’t know what to do with myself. But what happened was I realized how, in fact, I should have seen it as an opportunity. … I had a shift around the age of fifteen, sixteen, where I realized that my sexuality was a qualification to get involved in public service.”

James Duke Mason 3

Since then, Duke’s stepped up his political involvement. He was a volunteer for Hillary in 2008, and worked at her Iowa caucus watch party in L.A. He was a surrogate for Obama in 2012, traveling around to give speeches on the candidate’s behalf. And he’s planning work for Hillary, assuming she finally stops being coy about whether she’ll run.

For now, though, Duke is making a name for himself in local politics running for the West Hollywood City Council, the town’s highest elected position. (Council members take turns as mayor.)

He’ll have an uphill battle. WeHo is run by an entrenched political machine that’s been in place since its founding in the ’80s.

James Duke Mason 1

Duke cites expensive new housing and rising rent as driving out longtime residents — chiefly, queer people, Russians, the elderly, and the low-income.

“The biggest issue facing the city is identity,” he says. “West Hollywood was founded for people who were previously disenfranchised and marginalized, and now are being marginalized again.”

As worst-case examples, he says, “look what’s happening in New York and San Francisco. On one hand they’re great examples of innovation and a strong infrastructure … but on the other hand, you’re seeing some of those groups that make them who they are get pushed aside.” Both cities are currently in the midst of a housing crisis, with a gradual erosion of middle and lower-income housing stock.

To fix that, Duke wants the city to pay landlords to keep rent down — not just for residents, but for businesses. He also wants to reform California law to legalize rent control for local businesses. And he wants to see development, but “smart development, responsible development.”

WeHo was created in the ’80s by local activists, some of whom were under 30. John Heilman and Abbe Land remain on City Council to this day. Now Duke sees his turn to make a difference.

James Duke Mason 6One of his first local battles was over WeHo’s rainbow flag, a saga that unfolded over months. First, local political gadfly Larry Block donated a rainbow flag to be hung at City Hall. Then, months later, City Council decided the flag wasn’t a great symbol for the city, since it mostly refers to queers and not the totality of what the town has to offer. That was followed by outcry and editorials and protests, with many observers claiming that this dispute was evidence that WeHo is abandoning its queer past and getting too straight.

Duke jumped into the fray with an op-ed: “WEST HOLLYWOOD IS AN OFFICIALLY GAY CITY. We need that rainbow flag there now more than ever. It is sorely needed at a time when our city is losing its gay identity; I’m all for assimilation and inclusion, but not at the expense of our culture and heritage.”

Fighting over a flag seems like the sort of ridiculous small-town minutia that you’d find on a sitcom, but disputes like these typify real-life local politics. For his part, Duke sees it as an opportunity to talk about how gay enclaves will evolve over the coming decades. “The gayborhood of the future is a place where you can be openly gay, you can be stridently so, and you can still have gay friends and bring them to West Hollywood,” he says.

That’s a nice thing to say, but it doesn’t exactly fill potholes. Duke’s still ramping up his campaign and working with his role models and mentors to nail down a more specific platform. He cites Cleve Jones as a mentor, and points out that longtime activist David Mixner (and Clinton friend) has endorsed him.

“Those are the people that I’m fighting for,” Duke says. “I want to make sure that their contributions to our community and our history are protected, because they need to be there for young people.”




JDM on the Issues

Boycotting Antigay Businesses

I’ve been very vocal about my opposition to the Beverly Hills Hotel, even though my family have been clients there for 70 years. … The only way to take a stand and make a difference is to stand up and be heard.


Getting More People on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to Prevent HIV Transmission

I support PrEP. On the one hand, I support safe sex. On the other hand, I think it’s a great preventative measure.


Mandatory Condoms for Porn Performers

I support it. I think that we need to be encouraging safe sex in every way possible.


Using The Word “Tranny”

If we don’t want people to call us our slurs, we should be respecting what the trans community wants us to do.


The Necessity of Pride

I love Pride … I think Pride is more important than ever, more relevant than ever.


Gay Republicans

I think there’s a difference between the Republican party of 30, 40 years ago and the Republican party of today. There are a lot of reasonable gay Republicans who want to return the party to what it was. But I don’t see how someone who’s gay could fall in line with the Republican party as it is today.


Body Hair: Keep or Shave?

[Nervous laughter] I have a lot of body hair, whether I like it or not. I have my personal preferences, I wish I could get rid of it, but it’s a little difficult, so I leave it the way it is.

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  • bradr

    I hope I am wrong, but this guy seems way too into himself. All he posts about on Facebook is how great his grandfather and mother are… I could care less if he’s gay, if he’s a child of a celebrity, or if he wrote an article or two on a website. I care about his education and his stances on things that don’t relate to the ridiculous questions mentioned above. He also needs some more professional photographs if he’s going to be a modern young gay man running for political office… those look like something my friends and I take for run on a random weekend.

    This young guy could do a great job in politics, but he needs to prove it through his ideas and education… not through his celebrity relatives. I do hope he excels, though, and brings something new to the table in the future.

  • Cam

    The tone of this article was telling. Comments like:

    First, local political gadfly Larry Block donated a rainbow flag to be hung at City Hall. Then, months later, City Council decided the flag wasn’t a great symbol for the city, since it mostly refers to queers and not the totality of what the town has to offer. (So the person who donated the flag is a gadfly, and the flag wasn’t removed because the city council didn’t want the city to seem “Too Gay” but was rather excused away. Considering West Hollywood was founded as a gay enclave originally why now attack the thought that somebody may want to reference that? Does the author also think that areas like Chinatown should just knock down all of the old signs in Manderine and Cantonese because they don’t represent the totality of the town?)

    Or the comment of “That’s a nice thing to say, but it doesn’t exactly fill potholes. (Well that little dig would have been relevant IF you asked the guy a question about potholes and he responded by talking about something else however the discussion was about the rainbow flag so the dig seems odd.)

    It looks like the writer may have a friend in the election running against this guy.

    As for Mason, He used to want to be an actor, now a politician, I would suggest cutting his teeth on a lower level political job first, come in with some real experience behind him, but then again, I could be wrong, John Boehner and Sara Palin had experience….

  • AtticusBennett

    he’s a rather remarkable young man. driven, passionate, with insight and integrity. well met, brother.

  • bobnla

    I take issue with Mason’s statement that a gay man could not be a Republican, but more chagrined with his candidacy for WeHo city council. He was born to privilege, infatuated with his own self-indulgent firebrand style, clearly oblivious to the notion of the work ethic, unaware of the mechanics of the American economy which he wants to restructure, and a devotee of the role of government in social engineering and control of the individual. Let there be caution in embracing this young man’s populist agenda. He is an idealistic neophyte with no real world experience, and a danger if elected to the WeHo city council.

  • AtticusBennett

    @bobnla: or, he’s one who is well aware of the privileges he’s been born into and is doing what those with an awareness of said privileges should be doing: living and leading by example and using their privileges and opportunities to speak out.

    gay republicans in 2014? cowards. wimps. doormats. any gay man who still votes GOP in this day and age needs to have their head examined. you show me a gay republican commenter on here who can put a face to their “screen name” and explain, in detail, how they are proactively working to promote LGBT Equality within the GOP…and i’ll show you a unicorn.

    gay republicans have capers for testes.

  • Alan down in Florida

    Gay Republican is not an oxymoron. It is just a plain old moron.

    It is idealistic kids like Duke that stand up and make their voices heard that are changing this country for the better and ultimately create a world where gay rights are just another subheading under human rights.

  • Saint Law

    @bobnla: Your prose is awful and so the perfect medium for your ‘thoughts’.

  • Stache99

    @bobnla: As a resident of Weho I’m taking those things into consideration too. Everything he said sounded really good and a bit too polished with his smooth talking points. I’m looking for real world experience though. Not just a little volunteer work here and there. Hate to say it but all I see is an entitled rich kid who just wants to please mommy and daddy.

    “He was fresh off his first foray into politics when his mother had signed him up for “Kids for Kerry” at the age of 12.”

  • Stache99

    Btw. I was looking at the average pay scale of a Weho council member. Generally about 10,000-12,000 per year. Great benefits though. Seems to be a stepping stone position to something else. Compare that to just a lowly Weho landscape maintenance position at 108,000.

  • enlightenone

    @bobnla: You just described every limp penis Log Cabin and Go “proud” Republicans and many other Republican politicians!

  • AtticusBennett

    @Stache99: the good news is, he doesn’t need to “please mommy and daddy” – his parents are exceptional people, who have encouraged him for many years to take part, GIVE BACK, and use the privileges he’s been afforded to help others.

    if you want to look for entitled kids who want to “please mommy and daddy” – take a good look at the pathetic gay republicans, who all Lean Right because it’s the only way their pathetic parents will tolerate them.

    • Stache99

      @AtticusBennett: Well, I just hope he doesn’t follow his dads example then. Reagan was an “exceptional” president in many ways but none of them good.

  • enlightenone

    @AtticusBennett: I like “capers,” but other than that I applaud you comment!

  • Stache99

    @AtticusBennett: Btw. do you work for him? How do you know all this when we don’t. Being a bit more realistic and not just pulling flowers and sunshine out of your ass isn’t going to change my opinion.

  • enlightenone

    @Stache99: I say for a 23-year-old, ACTIVIST (defender of our culture and identities) and WRITER, celebrity son or not, HE HAS PUT HIMSELF OUT THERE as a “non-closeted,” not a just came out of the self-imposed “closet!” As a “WEHO” residence and “gay?” “man?”, what is your real world experience, and how have you contributed to advancing “acceptance” and quality of life for LGBT human beings.

    • Stache99

      @enlightenone: Not about me sweety. I’m NOT running for political office. I’m sure he’s a great guy. At the end of the day it’s a city that needs effective managers and he could the best queer in the world but so what. All I wanted to know is what skills and experience he brings to the office so I know whether or not to vote for him.

  • enlightenone

    @Stache99: As the article reads, you can ascertain that he is NOT following in his father’s footsteps at least not in whole.

  • AtticusBennett

    @Stache99: i do not work for him. those of us who actually are involved in LGBT activism and advocacy tend to have our paths cross over time. an outspoken advocate from a family of liberal outspoken advocates – there’s no “needing to please mommy and daddy” on his part – it’s gay republicans who feel a need to “please mommy and daddy” – they apologize for being gay by leaning as hard to the Right as they can. and it makes no difference. their families continue to vote against LGBT Equality. Mason doesn’t have that problem. He’s a young man, who has continuously used the privileges he’s been afforded to speak up, stand up, and do something.

    feel free to show us all who you are, “Stache”. and all the amazing work you’re doing. URL, plz.

  • enlightenone

    @Stache99: Does he have to work for him OR KNOW HIM when he is using his “reader comprehension” SKILLS to support his comment?

  • SteveDenver

    It is heartening to see young people interested in responsible government. He has every advantage and most likely could be a layabout who simply lives to enjoy himself, but he has chosen another path. Best of luck to him!

  • Stache99

    @enlightenone: Was more of a response to Atticus or Little Kiwi and his exceptional comment.

  • enlightenone

    Reflective of how I see a positive, knowledgeable (and appreciative of his cultural and political history), confident, gay-well, young MAN! That said, I’m more of a Silver Lake type – a more culturally diverse, bohemian feel (a neighboring community, 10 miles East).

  • enlightenone

    @Stache99: Expected the typical defenses (to avoid actually answering the questions – though you, of course, could choose not answer them), i.e. “… not about me sweety,” “I’m not running for office,” “Do you work for him,” “I’m sure he’s a great guy,” etc. My questions to you was as a “gay man?” and a resident of that community. There was nothing in your comments for me to even think you were or will run for office!

  • enlightenone

    @Stache99: Sorry, I don’t know what this comment “Was more of a response to Atticus or Little Kiwi and his exceptional comment,” refers of my comments directed to you?

  • Jacob23

    There’s no such thing as “young LGBT people” because there’s no such thing as “LGBT people.” This awesome guy is gay, as he repeated states throughout the post above.

  • AtticusBennett

    @Jacob23: the good news is that guys like are always perpetually-anonymous internet cowards who can’t put a face to your comments.

  • CoachS

    I’m gonna get grief here for being faceless but I’m genuinely interested in the thoughts of those who are knocking Log Cabin Republicans. If someone supports gay rights… but believes in a strong military and the free market, then you expect them to scrap everything else because the Democrats are friendlier to the gay agenda? I happen to support a pro-gay agenda and so I work with marriage equality groups… but I also support the free market, so I work with free market advocates and support a healthy environment (so I work with the Sierra Club) and a strong military (so I work with military groups). Do I have to give up my homo club membership because I want government out of my bedroom AND out of my boardroom? For the record: I consider myself an old school “New England Republican”.

  • wpewen

    Well I’ve got nothing against the free market per se, believe in a strong military,came out in LA 1976, lifelong liberal democrat. All these things are not somehow mutually exclusive. Wanted to join the Navy but was 4f. Still a liberal democrat. Family were LA Democrats, some union, some upper middle class.
    Republican? Fine except for one thing-they didn’t do a damn to get the ball rolling for any of these causes you mention (except markets). Democrats were first to the plate on all of it. Doubt we’d be having this discussion left to the GOP (even NE, I lived there in Portland ME). How do I know-well being 56 yrs old helps.

  • jd2222248

    He is know on my prayer list. I wish him the best! :-)

  • Billysees


    Good comment —

    ” It is heartening to see young people interested in responsible government. He has every advantage and most likely could be a layabout who simply lives to enjoy himself, but he has chosen another path. Best of luck to him! “

  • Billysees


    Another good comment —

    ” I wish him the best! :-) “

  • enlightenone

    @CoachS: “Do I have to give up my homo club membership because I want government out of my bedroom AND out of my boardroom?”

    No, you wouldn’t if the home you refer actual platform, politics, policies, and laws were not in your bedroom, relationship, family, workplace, or in a woman’s vagina! Given where the Teabagger — I mean Republican Party is today for at least the past 30 years or more, you do need to “GIVE UP YOUR HOMO CLUB MEMBERSHIP” or at least paint it so you can at least continue to deceive yourself because your “party” isn’t deceiving most conscientious gay people.

  • wpewen

    Is this something new? Young (gotta be young) scion of some privilege showing nice face for West Hollywood. He’s all of 23 (24?). What’s the actual age demographic for WeHo?
    I lived there for 1 year back in 1978. Great place. But after all these years, and all the cumulative talent behind the residence base, why does this guy look like he just stepped out the Odyssey?
    Just one more reason I basically left the gay community 20 years ago. I’m a man first, coincidentally I prefer other men sexually.

  • Cam

    @CoachS: said…

    “I’m gonna get grief here for being faceless but I’m genuinely interested in the thoughts of those who are knocking Log Cabin Republicans. If someone supports gay rights… but believes in a strong military and the free market, then you expect them to scrap everything else because the Democrats are friendlier to the gay agenda?”

    Ok, I’ll go through your comment.

    1. Log Cabin Republicans attacked the Congressman who introduced the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and endorsed his opponent who had not made a statement on Gay Rights. So they actually attacked a gay rights supporter in favor of somebody not supportive. So to say that they support gay rights is wrong.

    2. Log Cabin also seems to see it as their job to shill for republicans and give them cover rather than press for gay rights. For example, they claimed that John McCain never voted for an AZ bill that made it illegal for gays to adopt. Well……yes, because he isn’t in the AZ legislature where the bill came up, however McCain DID appear in two TV ads endorsing the bill.

    3. The Free Market? The GOP House Whip just endorsed the dismantling of the import/export bank which facilitates U.S. trade. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has attacked even the idea of that. That is the opposite of free market.

    Your problem is, you seem to be reading some 20 year old textbook that has dumbed down simplistic descriptions of political parties. You are endorsing candidates that support John Boehner for speaker, a man who used taxpayer money to fund lawsuits supporting federal discrimination of gays.

    If there was a group that supported women not being allowed to work or drive a car some woman would sound like an idiot if she said “Oh, but I like their views on trade so I’m supporting them.

  • AtticusBennett

    @CoachS: it’s that you’re gonna “get crap” – more that you just prove me right. oh gay republicans, forever making your anonymous claims. let’s see what success you’ve had in getting your fellow republicans to be visible and vocal supports of LGBT Equality. oh wait, we can’t see it, and you yourself can’t show who you are.
    behind every gay republican is the GOP-leaning family who shamed them into leaning right, so as not to be “one of those liberal gays”

  • wpewen

    I wouldn’t even bother to talk to these upper-tier Repbs or Libertarians, they simply want their cake and eat it too. A certain generation of gay men like myself find these critters vile-trading off success of radical drag queens, sympathetic hippies,and later mainstream Democrats like J. Carter who opened up the WH to gays. These men are very prissy in a way that the Stonewall Girls could never approach. Again, once they came on the scene there was no reason to hang out. Might wanna rock n roll with a Stonewall girl. Don’t know what the hell I’d have to say to Log Cabin-hey you wanna get fucked by some hot dudes with union cards?

  • seaguy

    He’s cute that is for sure.

  • seaguy

    He’s got a cool mom I love Belinda Carlisle and he seems like a smart guy I would vote for him. He has allot of the same beliefs and views that I do. It sounds like WEHO could use some fresh new people down at City Hall.

  • stvrsnbrgr

    He’s got my vote. Weho city council needs new members. This is a city, not a private club.

  • mz.sam

    Best of luck to you and your campaign, James! If I lived in W. Hollywood I’d voter for you.

Comments are closed.