First published in the Dec. 25 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Following a recent request from a Burbank City Council member, the panel could remove some ordinances advocates say discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
During the Dec. 7 City Council meeting, during which then-Mayor Bob Frutos retroactively declared Nov. 13-19 as Transgender Awareness Week, a few community members raised the issue of the ordinances. At the end of the meeting, Councilman Nick Schultz asked city staff members to look into repealing the provisions from Burbank’s municipal code.
One of the ordinances, numbered 3-3-516, prohibits anyone in a licensed place of entertainment from “[impersonating] by means of a costume or dress, a person of the opposite sex” without written permission from the chief of police. Another ordinance states that dancing in public entertainment venues can only occur “between persons of the opposite sex.”
Schultz also asked that the council consider repealing a third ordinance prohibiting physical therapy from being performed on members of the opposite sex, though he noted that one appears to have been removed in 2003.
It is not clear whether the ordinances were ever enforced, or how long they have been in effect. As of this week, the city had not scheduled a discussion of the repeal.
In an interview with the Leader, Schultz thanked members of the public who had called in about the ordinances. He explained that last year he worked with Burbank’s management services coordinator to add nonbinary gender options to city applications, but would like to see all of the municipal code have gender-inclusive language.
“When people are interacting with City Hall, whether that’s applying for a job or a [constituent] seeking resources … they need to see themselves not only as part of the community but as part of what we’re trying to accomplish at City Hall,” Schultz said.
Isabel Omero, who called on the City Council to repeal the ordinances, said doing so would help show that Burbank is not the same city that instituted those codes. And though she believes it’s unlikely that anyone would enforce the ordinances today, Omero, who is a trans woman, added that the recent political climate has shown her that what was once absurd could become possible.
“You never know … there could be some lawyer somewhere who wants to see what can be done with stuff that’s on the books,” she said.
In at least one instance, city officials’ discriminatory decisions landed Burbank in legal trouble. In 1979, Starlight Bowl operator Cinevision sued the city after the City Council denied most of its proposed musical acts, with the panel claiming the performances would cause a public nuisance or violate the law. Cinevision argued the council’s decisions violated its First Amendment rights, and won both the initial court case and a later appeal.
In its ruling, an appellate court found that the City Council had made its decision arbitrarily, pointing out that a councilman had claimed the unapproved performers — including Todd Rundgren, Patti Smith and Jackson Browne — would attract members of the LGBTQ community, “dopers,” “antinuclear demonstrators” and Black audiences. Also in 1979, according to the ruling, a Burbank mayor wrote a letter to a pastor reaffirming a similar sentiment.
“I believe that we in Burbank are fortunate that we have been able to avoid the open recognition of these sick people, and while I am certain that such people do exist within our community, our moral standards are still such that they do not openly flaunt their position,” the ruling cites the letter as reading.
Rob Rodriguez, the director of marketing and social responsibility at the Burbank YMCA, wasn’t surprised to hear about the ordinances when a volunteer raised the matter, noting discriminatory policies in the municipality’s history. Rodriguez and Fernanda Tenorio, a youth advocate at the nonprofit’s Social Impact Center, explained they’ve heard from several Burbank students about their experiences with homophobia, racism and transphobia.
Repealing the ordinances, they added, would be a step toward addressing those issues.
“The real Burbank, the racism and the homophobia and stuff underneath the streets is what really needs to be addressed,” Rodriguez said.
Tenorio, who like Rodriguez uses they/them pronouns, added that they want to see Burbank offer housing, employment and medical resources, to which members of the LGBTQ community often face barriers. The absence of discriminatory laws, they added, isn’t enough.
“Even though there are hate crime laws, [hate crimes] still happen,” Tenorio said.