With just two days’ notice, several dozens of Santa Barbara activists and elected officials showed up to dark, misty De la Guerra Plaza Thursday evening to protest homophobia. The “Visibility Rally” was in response to an incident on State Street on election night, when controversial Isla Vista landlord James Gelb hurled homophobic slurs at Ethan Bertrand, an openly gay I.V. elected official.
“Hey, I’m proud to be gay!” Bertrand proclaimed at the rally, repeating the phrase he used in the verbal altercation that was captured on video and widely shared since the news story broke a week ago. The confrontation began when Bertrand approached Gelb to tell him he was glad the landlord recently decided to sell his $79 million Isla Vista property portfolio because he treats his tenants “very poorly.” The video clip shows Gelb shouting “faggot” and “fuck” at Bertrand, who remained cool and collected throughout the two-minute exchange.
Bertrand has since received an outpouring of support. Several speakers thanked Bertrand for coming forward to share the story. They said society these days has gotten used to a level of hatred that we must resist. “If we take that behavior as okay, it will be ramped up,” charged 1st District Supervisor Das Williams.
They also expressed appreciation that District Attorney Joyce Dudley filed disturbing-the-peace charges against Gelb. The maximum sentence is a $400 fine and up to 90 days in jail. He will appear in court on December 4. In the past two years, Dudley has filed disturbing-the-peace charges 46 times in Santa Barbara, according to her office.
The crowd on Thursday included Santa Barbara mayor-elect Cathy Murillo, City Councilmember Gregg Hart, openly gay Goleta City Councilmember Kyle Richards, former U.S. representative Lois Capps, and other community members. Hart noted Bertrand worked tirelessly for him on his City Council campaign, adding, “We are all going to be voting for Ethan at some point.”