Who’s 2008’s Homo Hero of the Year?

For years, the Los Angeles Police Department, currently led by Chief William Bratton, had one of the worst records in the country when it came to how it treats gays and lesbians. In fact, the city of West Hollywood was incorporated to prevent the LAPD from having jurisdiction of an area that had become a safe haven for the LGBT community. Under the protection of the LA County Sheriff’s office, WeHo was free from raids, random jailings and police abuse.

The LAPD’s terrible relationship with the gay community isn’t just ancient history, either. As recently as 1998, gay and lesbian activists were complaining that the force unfairly targeted gay and lesbians, as well as businesses frequented and run by the LGBT community. That year, the LA Times reported this:

“A group of civil rights advocates on Tuesday pressed the Los Angeles Police Commission to establish an independent commission to investigate their claims that police selectively enforce laws to harass gay men and women.

According to several speakers, LAPD officers target gays, their businesses and their communities with undercover operations aimed at citing people for lewd conduct and other offenses.

There is a widely and strongly held view … that the LAPD chooses to enforce laws against people who are or are perceived as being lesbian or gay in a stricter and harder fashion than against people who are not,” said Myron Dean Quon, an attorney with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.”

Things were so bad that the city “paid $1.2 million to settle a pair of lawsuits claiming that the LAPD harassed gay officers within the force” and had to “pay $87,000 to a man who said an LAPD officer struck him in the face during a gay rights protest.”

So, it was with some degree of trepidation that Prop 8. Protesters left the safe confines of West Hollywood on November 5th and marched into Los Angeles proper. The first night was tense, with a handful of protesters who dared to cross the police line finding themselves on the receiving end of a nightstick. Squads of police in riot gear and ever-present helicopters watched the Westwood protests against the Mormon Church carefully.

As one of the protesters, I personally saw the changes in the way the LAPD treated the crowds. Following a march in Silver Lake through mostly empty corporate buildings, a group of 300 or so protesters, including your editor, felt that protesting was more about taking your message to everyday people than preaching to the choir and so left the area and marched on Hollywood. The police responded quickly and blocked the advancing path of protesters. For a few minutes, the police stood shoulder-to-shoulder, inches away from a crowd shouting to let them pass.

And then a call came. Everyone could tell something had changed as the police started to relax. An officer on a bullhorn shouted, “We’re going to let you march. We just need to set up the route. We thank you for your cooperation.” There was no doubt who ordered the go-ahead: It was LAPD Chief William Bratton.

In that moment, in the eyes of those marching, the LAPD became an ally of the gay community. When a mobile signboard appeared in front of protesters saying “Please move the right. We’ll be moving shortly,” they laughed at how quickly a tense stand-off had turn to mutual cooperation. When another group marched from downtown LA to Hollywood on the National Day of Impact, the exhausted group of protesters blocking the intersection of Hollywood & Highland thanked the LAPD for escorting them and broke into a sustained applause for LA’s finest.

It’s easy to forget, in the face of so much vocal opposition to fairness and equality for gays and lesbians, that the ranks of allies supporting us are growing every day. Chief Bratton publicly announced his financial support of the No on 8 campaign as well as his support for gay marriage in July at the urging of a gay couple he’s friends with, saying at the time: “The Constitution guarantees life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I see no reason why gays can’t pursue happiness through marriage.”

But it is the way he and the Los Angeles Police Department treated the protesters that makes him Queerty’s Homo Hero of the Year. There are many worthy LGBT folks who deserve mention (and are mentioned below), but Bratton’s proved that even the most homophobic institutions are capable of change when led by people with courage. The reality is that Prop. 8 protesters were breaking the law, but the LAPD, under Bratton, recognized the importance of the crowds, the essential peacefulness of the protests and chose to honor America’s tradition of civil disobedience. At a moment when gays and lesbians felt more like second-class citizens than ever, at a moment when the gay community’s rights were stripped away, the LAPD treated us with dignity and respect. It won’t be forgotten.

Why are we choosing Bratton in a year filled with honest to goodness homosexuals sticking their neck out for equality? Isn’t naming random straight people the purview of Out and The Advocate? The decision to put Bratton at the top was not an easy one and we expect that for some people, the fact we chose a heterosexual will be tantamount to heresy.

But we can’t sit here day in and day out talking about how we must reach out to a wider community than ourselves and not practice what we preach. Bratton’s inclusion is partly because he had nothing to lose had he kept the status quo. Instead, he chose to challenge the ingrained homophobia and prejudice in the LAPD.

Unlike the politicians and celebrities who pay lip service to the gay community but do nothing, Bratton used his power and influence to make a tangible difference. There were plenty of cops who would have liked to beat up Prop 8 protesters, but by setting a clear example that the LAPD was breaking with its homophobic past, Bratton not only prevented another White Nights, he proved that even the most homophobic of institutions is capable of change.


Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin met in 1950 and on Valentine’s Day 1953 moved in together in a small apartment in the Castro. Their love affair would span half a century before being legally recognized by the state of California. In 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered City Hall to issue marriage licenses to gays and lesbians, they were the first to get one. When the licenses were voided by the state they spoke up, becoming the face of gay marriage. When the California Supreme Court ruled that marriage was an ‘inalienable right’ Phyllis and Del were, once again, the first to get married. Sadly, Del passes away in August, though it’s a small consolation that she didn’t have to see her fellow Californians vote to revoke her marriage. It’s a shame though that she didn’t live to see what she and Phyllis’ love affair has wrought: a gay community energized and committed to securing their rights. Helen of Troy’s love was said to launch an army across the sea, but the love affair of Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin inspired a new generation of equal rights advocates to stand up and be counted.

There really is no wrong way to come out, but comedian Wanda Sykes’ decision to use the podium of Las Vegas’ National Day of Impact protest to out herself was one of this year’s stand up and cheer moments. Instead of making her public coming out about herself (say, by plastering it on the cover of People), Sykes used the moment to talk about the discrimination and inequality heaped on all gay people. It was a selfless act and since then, Sykes, who never hid her sexuality from friends and colleagues, has used her public profile to raise awareness about marriage equality and homophobia, appearing on the Tonight Show and joining the board of Equality California.

20-year-old Australian diver Matthew Mitcham didn’t want to just be known as “the gay diver” and he managed to do it by nabbing gold and breaking Olympic records in Beijing. He came home to a hero’s welcome and was acclaimed by the Aussie press as the sports hero of the year. By all accounts a normal guy, Mitcham’s casually wears his sexuality, neither hiding it nor letting it define him. Unfortunately, endorsements haven’t been rolling in for the young phenom, a sad sign that advertisers still fear associating themselves with someone who’s openly gay. Still, Mitcham’s success story opens a new chapter in the history of gay sports and we know that Mitcham’s presence on the diving board will be inspiring young atheletes, of every sexuality, for years to come.

Originally published Dec. 31, 2008

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  • Stephen Warwick

    I am an out gay detective officer in the (London) Metropolitan Police service, who came out at work, some 12 years ago. To see Chief William Bratton of the LAPD awarded this accolade warms my heart. I have a sister who lives in California. In years past I have known one or two LA County Sheriff’s officers. I was surprised quite how many are gay/bi amongst their ranks. I was told how different things were for LAPD officers generally.

    Here in England it is a patchwork quilt in relation to being a serving out gay/bi officer. In the big cities and further afield it’s often no big deal nowadays. That said, institutional which is largely to say unwitting discrimination still persists though. This affects both serving officers and our own communities.

    It seems that the LAPD are striving to overcome historic tensions and a history of poor service to LGB communities. All power to them and once again congratulations Chief Bratton; you command my respect.

  • Todd

    I would like to throw in another also ran – Neil Patrick Harris. He didn’t really do anything particularly out there, but his visibility on the small screen this year as a funny, engaging, GAY actor was refreshing.

  • seitan-on-a-stick

    Worst Cop of the Year should go to NYC Police Commish Ray Kelly (who will NEVER be Mayor) and his constant harassment of Gays in Gay establishments. You can take an Uzi into a Hip-hop club but don’t pull out your Big Cock at a urinal. FUCK the Homophobic NYPD who were just as dumb responding to 9-11 following their fearless leader, then Mayor Giuliani into harm’s way as there were heroes being lead by cowards.

    NYPD – Young, dumb and full of Cum (for all the extortion of Gay foreigners and locals) which the New York media IGNORED! Yeah, Queerty ignored this as well!!!!! Getting rid of youth gangs in America is 50% of the problem (hello? loitering?)and then there are the REAL terrorists! Gays will, at worst, tell you that hat doesn’t go with that scarfe.

    Thanks for acknowledging the bravity of Wanda Sykes coming out over Prop 8 (LOVE HER)and Aussie Matthew Mitcham (GAYS with GRACE!)

  • Trenton

    I think Bratton was a brilliant pick and your write-up was excellent. An uplifting way to end the year, indeed!

  • Geoffrey

    right, the police set up bullsh#t routes and we’re congratulating them. like the wonderful people who let everyone march back to weho, after leading us through some abandoned industrial district downtown, bypassing the exact places where we should have been marching….like the extremely busy part of downtown…where the mayor’s latino business constituency is… you know, the one he didn’t want to bother with a gay rights protest…you know, the street with tall buildings and an echo chamber. <-that’s where we all should have marched. but let’s be grateful that the lapd even let us march at all, i guess is what you’re saying.

  • Japhy Grant

    @Geoffrey: Hey Geoffrey- As I mentioned in the article, the police worked with protesters who DIDN’T follow the prescribed routes (which were set by ANSWER L.A. and Make an Impact, not the police) who did go to places that were visible. I agree the routes were bullshit, but blame the protest organizers, not the LAPD. If you had joined in the groups that didn’t just go home at the end, you would have seen that.

  • tristram

    Great choices – all worthy winners. Especially Matt Mitcham – a guy who pulled off an incredible performance, and is still waiting to see his first sponsorship dollar. But he’s handled it all with class and grace.

  • Flex

    Yes, Mr. Bratton deserves a special thank you. However, there is another individual who deserves a special thank you. The man who may have already saved gay marriage in California, for his new novel legal theory, Attorney General Gerry Brown. This man has articulated why prop 8 is unconstitutional, better than we did. In doing so, he may de-claw the religious right from their obsessive use of ballot initiatives to vote away anything gay. If you don’t have a clue about what I’m saying, here is a link to his 111 page argument why prop 8 should be voided. It gets very interesting on pages 75-91. Happy reading!

  • Leland Frances

    Oh, fucking please! Buy a clue, Flex. AG Brown has become nothing more than a political parasite, whose conscience blows with the political wind.

    He FOUGHT AGAINST legalizing gay marriage before the Supreme Court when HE DID NOT HAVE TO; then said he would administer Prop H8TE when HE DID NOT HAVE TO; now…just as he’s decided to run for governor again…he suddenly grows a conscience????

    And those already starting to type a retarded “but it was HIS JOB to fight marriage in court blah blah blah” save your time to read some fucking history; grow some moral balls! It might have been in his job description but historical and legal precedent has determined that MORAL obligation outweighs legal obligation.

    Adolph Eichmann, who drew up the highly efficient plans to transport millions of Jews [and others] to the Nazi death camps, famously defended himself in court by saying he was just doing HIS job. The Israelis still hung him. And Brown’s credibility should be hung out to dry.

    He’s FINALLY doing the right thing [challenging Prop H8TE] for the wrong reason [currying favor among CA gay voters who would otherwise be eager to vote for SF Mayor Gavin Newsom if he runs for governor because HE was the straight political figure who had the balls…at GREAT cost to him politically (did ja see HIM on the podium at the Democratic National Convention? Nada!)…AND over a THOUSAND death threats…got the whole marriage equality issue in CA seriously started, and, at HIS direction the City of San Francisco sued to defend marriage equality only to have BROWN fight AGAINST it].

    In short, celebrate Brown’s victory if he succeeds but do NOT celebrate the man. He’s NO HERO…just a political opportunist come late.

  • Flex

    @Leland Frances: You’re an old, bitter, queen, and its weird how you talk to yourself in your top-post to my comment.

  • Phil

    Hey, run out of things to say? Because it seems to me that the standard retort of young, air-headed gays seems to be calling someone else old, bitter, or fat and then adding a queen to the end. I don’t see at all how he’s monologging, but I guess that’s all you’re capable of biting at.

  • Flex

    @Phil: To hypocrite, top-posting, imbecile, troll. What did you add to the OP’s column? Who wrote a monologue? It’s you who doesn’t have anything to say. According to your logic, that makes you an airhead.

  • d

    i’m concerned at the lack of discussion of the lapd’s treatment of people of color, like there are no queer poc. mainstream white lgbt l.a. =/= all queers

  • GING

    The LAPD was pretty good during the prop 8 protests. Although according to an older protester they did make LA look like Berlin 1935, with there strong presence. But the police force that is to be SHAMED is the LONG BEACH PD. Who hit people with sticks for simply being on the street after the official protest ended. My girlfriend was hit and has back pain to this day because of this!

  • Geoffrey

    Hello Japhy Grant: Right, the routes were planned by an undergraduate at ucla in a meeting with the lapd. i think the police did set the route. and then congratulations on the secondary march afterwards, led by a man who swatted me away like a fly when i tried to say something. he had a megaphone, people listened to him i guess. seemed kind of like a sycophant to the policemen to me.

  • Stacey

    Thanks Japhy. I’m make sure this information gets forwarded to the Chief.

  • Ethan Q

    Kuddo’s to Chief Bratton! I remember the days when you could get a ticket by the LAPD for just having a rainbow sticker on your car. He’s done a fantastic job here with the LAPD, with Prop 8 and with the demonstrations and fully deserves this award.

    Kuddo’s to QUEERTY for not going with a more “traditional” choice.

    And Kuddo’s to the LA Times for the front page notice on their website!

  • Michael McKeon

    I have been to every Prop 8 event in Los Angeles, and the L.A.P.D Men and Women were outstanding. They teated us all with repect and dignity.

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!

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