West Hollywood’s mayor, John Duran, is being accused of sexual harassment, again, but he denies the act vehemently.
As we shared with you at the start of this month, Duran has been accused of several instances of sexual misconduct. The majority of these accusations come from members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. An organization for which Duran acted as board chairman before announcing his plans to step down this summer.
One of the more vocal accusers is Jason Tong who reported incidents where Duran would put his hands inside his pants or underwear. Two other Chorus members say that they reported similar incidents to the chorus membership committee, which handles internal complaints. Unfortunately, no investigations came from those complaints.
Duran and other chorus officials say that they only ever heard of Tong’s accusations. An independent investigator then found no corroborating evidence to validate Tong’s claims.
“If there was a problem, if there were allegations of sexual harassment, they would have been brought to the board,” said Chorus board member Dianne Abbitt insisted. “Nobody has even asked me privately to have a discussion about allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct.”
The situation may have ended there, and in the mandatory harassment training ordered by the chorus’s executive director Jonathan Weedman, had no one commented further. But, Duran then made a few comments that dug his grave deeper.
Talking to the Los Angeles Times, John Duran claims that all of these sexual harassment accusations and calls for his resignation hail from cultural misunderstandings.
"There’s a culture clash going on,” the mayor said. “If somebody expresses himself or herself sexually, that doesn’t make it harassment, per se.”
“People are thinking that anything sexual is harassment because somebody feels it is unwelcome, but you have to open your mouth and say, ‘No, I don’t want this.’ … Otherwise, how are any of us able to navigate the sexual politics of 2019? I just think there are bigger, more complex issues at play, that everyone needs to take a timeout and slow down. It can’t be accusation equals guilt.”
In Tong's case, he claims to have made direct eye contact with Duran after the man put two fingers inside his waistband, near his hips, in a changing room of a Grendale show. After seeing Tong’s face, Duran silently left the room.
“I sort of went into a shocked state,” Tong said. “It all happened very quickly, five seconds or so. … I went to the next changing room over and told a couple of my friends what happened. Only then did I realize I had been violated by someone.”
Tong also shares that he doesn’t believe in Duran’s “generational views” excuse. He “knows lots of older gay men who definitely understand the idea of consent.”
“No matter how old you are,” he said, “it’s very easy to ask first.”
Concerning Tong, Duran made some mean-spirited comments after hearing about the accusations. While talking to the WeHo Times, Duran dismissed Tong.
“I looked him up on Facebook and of course, he’s a skinny Korean kid with pimples on his cheek. … Look at this guy. It’s just not happening. It’s not credible,” Duran said.
In response, Tong simply said, “I’m not Korean; I’m Chinese.”
Despite Duran’s statement, this wave of sexual harassment accusations is the second time that the man’s been accused of the act. Back in 2016, the city paid $500,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit between Duran and his former council deputy. Duran hired the deputy after finding him on Grindr and having sex with him.
Around the same time, Duran was also accused of "trolling for men on Grindr" during city council meetings by Councilman John D’Amico.
"To me that was enough," said D'Amico.
"For years I have glanced over and seen John trolling for men on Grindr during council meetings … (and) other places. … This kind of behavior when brought to city council meetings was harmful and harmed people and I can no longer believe that giving John a pass is the best solution to this problem."
Despite this development, Duran was reelected, but now there are several calls to have him resign.
Some members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, West Hollywood residents, and politicians are calling for Duran to leave his seat as Mayor of West Hollywood. Three of the city’s five council members have called on Duran to resign, because his personal life has become a distraction to political matters.
In addition, Robert Oliver resigned as vice chair of the city’s Public Safety Commission in protest after other commissioners declined to condemn Duran.
“It is time that the #MeToo movement comes to West Hollywood,” he said.
Yesterday, Duran posted the above long letter to the public through Facebook. He first apologizes for his "Korean kid with pimples" comment. He says that anyone who knows him knows that he has a crass sense of humor, but he meant no harm or racism with his joke.
Duran then went into full detail about the three accusations that he's received from GMCLA members.
"The issue of sexual harassment at the Gay Men’s Chorus was initiated by a local blog who took an internal matter at a non profit where I sing with 280 other men and decided to print a story with only partial information.
In my 20 years at GMCLA , there has been only one claim filed against me. That occurred 5 months ago by a member who claimed I touched the waist band of his underwear in an inappropriate way.
I have still never met or spoken to this person. The chorus hired an independent investigator who interviewed him, me and the 5 other witnesses in the immediate vicinity who said nothing occurred. This was in a common dressing area with 150 men putting tuxedos on. Not one person could substantiate the person’s claim while there were 5 bystander eyewitnesses who told the investigator that they did not see anything occur. That claim was found unsupported and was thus closed.
The second claim was about something I said that was vulgar and inappropriate to a fellow singer 4 years ago. When it happened , I apologized to him for my comment. He did not wish to pursue the issue further and the comment only came to light now as part of the LA Times Story.
The third supposed claim has never been filed with the chorus,despite repeated requests that he do so. This is a person with a personal grudge against me who has chosen to attack me in the press, but yet to file a formal complaint with the Chorus against me so due process could be followed.
That’s it. One claim unfounded. One claim on vulgarity 4 years ago not pursued after my apology. And one claim never filed. Out of that – came a misrepresented narrative that I was “sexually harassing chorus members.”
I flirt. I crack dirty jokes. I often say things that make some cringe. But I do not threaten or physically assault anyone. Not ever. It is not in my DNA."