When the photo above was taken at an Equality California gala after the passage of Prop. 8, West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran, political activist Torie Osborn, Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs and EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors were not exactly the closest of friends.
A complex story simply put: Duran, who had been EQCA’s board president from 2004 to 2008, and Kors had raised a lot of money to fight against Prop. 8, with Kors often acting as an intermediary between the campaign and the press. But Osborn, who left L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office to be a “Super Delegate” in Nevada for presidential candidate Barack Obama, and Jacobs, whose progressive grassroots organization focused on other campaigns and initiatives—were nonetheless publically highly critical of how the campaign against Prop 8 had been run.
And yet, when the four were found talking in the same vicinity at the gala and were asked to pose together for the photo, they did so with ease. In fact, there was a transcendent moment—one of camaraderie, of devotion to a cause, to a movement grander than themselves. You can see it in their faces.
But that superseding friendship and mutual respect, despite vehement disagreement, plunged into murky emotional chaos when Osborn ran for state Assembly against Duran’s best friend, Assemblymember Betsy Butler in 2012. Redistricting caused a lot of headaches: Butler was considered the incumbent by the Democratic establishment, but Osborn thought the new 50th AD was an open seat and she aggressively went after it. At one endorsement meeting, which Osborn won, Duran became so furious that he yelled at her as he left. It was caught on tape, went viral and has been used as a prime illustration of Duran’s supposed “misogyny”—even though he was yelling at Osborn on behalf of his friend Betsy Butler.
And that’s how it’s stayed since then, with different camps still fuming at each other. Until something happened—something that makes that old photo even more poignant today, with Duran running for L.A. County Supervisor in the June 3 primary against Osborn’s best friend, Sheila Kuehl—while Osborn’s close friend Rick Jacobs now serves as Deputy Chief of Staff to L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who just endorsed Duran.
What happened was this: very quietly, Torie Osborn reached out to John Duran and the two talked, apologized to each other and made up. They remembered when they used to “love” each other—back in the day when Osborn was the Executive Director of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center and Duran was a gay civil rights attorney and chair of the board of LIFE Lobby (and author of AB 101, the vetoed gay civil rights bill) and both were fighting AIDS.
Here’s how I found out about what happened, as I reported for Frontiers:
What started out as a standard post-debate interview slipped into a whole new world of possibilities at the drop of a name. It was after the Los Angeles County Supervisors debate, hosted on May 18 by the Leo Baeck Temple, that West Hollywood City Councilmember and candidate John Duran said of progress for the LGBT community, “Now the question is: how do we assimilate in with the greater population in positions of leadership—whether it’s a lesbian rabbi or a CEO or the head of a company like David Bohnett or nonprofits like Torie Osborn?”
Duran citing Osborn—the lesbian he yelled at after she won a West Hollywood endorsement instead of Duran’s close friend, incumbent Betsy Butler, in a controversial re-districted Assembly race in 2012? Apparently the two have made up.
“I have been so impressed and actually proud of John in his participation in these debates,” Osborn said after the Supervisors’ debate. Osborn is backing her best friend and Duran’s opponent, Sheila Kuehl. “I don’t agree with everything. But he’s been brilliant. It’s made me proud as a lesbian sister. So over time, I reached out to him. He responded. We had a long conversation and put the past behind us. So it was one of those important conversations where you just kind of kiss and make up, only over the phone.”
Duran confirmed the conversation. “I don’t want to go into a lot of detail because it was a private moment between Torie and me, but I can say that we each made amends to one another. And we reminded one another why we fell in love with each other. I mean, Torie and I have known each other for 30 years. We’ve both been at the forefront of the movement. We had that one unfortunate episode that seems to be cemented in a lot of people’s minds. Other peple want to use that incident for their own agendas—whatever their agendas are—but I think Torie and I, we’re back square with one another.”
More than square if Osborn has her way. “I would like nothing more than the run-off to be my gay brother John and my lesbian sister Sheila Kuehl, because I think it would be a civil debate,” she says. “We would talk about issues. There would be real policy differences and some similarities—and it would be a pleasure to be part of a campaign that isn’t one filled with innuendo and ruled by money.”