Is there more to the Llanusa story?

by Mick Rhodes | editor@claremont-courier.com

On December 10, then Claremont Unified School District Board of Education President Steven Llanusa bowed to intense pressure from the public and his colleagues on the school board and resigned.

This followed a week of strong reaction to reports that underage members of the Claremont High School Choir, whom Llanusa hired to perform at his annual party at his Claraboya home on December 3, were in the same room with a group of shirtless male entertainers whom he had also hired to work the event. Some of the kids at the party also said they were offered alcohol by adults at the party.

Claremont police are investigating this incident. This column is not about whether or not something illegal happened at the party. That’s up to the police and the district attorney to decide. This is about the public’s reaction to the allegations, and how some of the rhetoric uncovered an ugly bias that was only amplified as the story gained traction.

The quantity and quality of the discourse surrounding this incident over the past two weeks has been tragically illuminating. As COURIER editor, I’m in charge of monitoring our socials to be sure there’s no hate speech, extreme profanity, personal attacks, etc. Over the past six months I’ve hidden one or two comments.

By December 10 on one Llanusa thread alone I’d hidden a half dozen. By December 12, it was about a dozen. The reason? Some commenters were comparing shirtless men and some ill-advised looseness with monitoring alcohol with “pedophilia,” and “grooming,” a particularly abhorrent and relatively new homophobic trope.

Some Facebook users said Llanusa should register as a sex offender. Another said he should be castrated.

Really?

I heard a comment at the December 9 school board meeting that exposure to the shirtless men at the party constituted “sexualizing” the kids in attendance. Really? The truth is every kid with a smartphone — which is most of them — has 24-hour access to most every imaginable form of sexual content. It’s also fair to assume most all of us have taken our families for a day at the beach. Using the logic that seeing shirtless men in short pants sexualizes underage children, wouldn’t the typical summer scenery at any Southern California beach have the same effect?

Could the difference be the shirtless men at the party were hired by a gay man, and the sexual preferences of the buff dudes at the beach are unknown and therefore not bothersome to homophobes?

I also wonder if the vicious public reaction would have been the same if underage kids had been at a party where a straight man had hired scantily clad buxom young women to serve appetizers and pose for photos. Would that party host have been publicly vilified in the same graphically hateful manner?

It’s a fraught time. We have all manner of movements mobilizing in America to right many historic wrongs, and for that I am grateful. “Boys will be boys,” and “It’s always been that way,” do not fly in 2022, thankfully. But the flipside of all this healthy reexamination has been the occasional overcorrection. Sometimes we are so intent on making things right we push too far in the other direction, and people are hurt.

This, I fear, may be one of those instances.

Steven Llanusa and I are not friends. We have had our professional differences. I know from personal experience he can be spiteful and vain. But who among us, in our worst moments, isn’t similarly flawed? I sure am. All this to say I think Steven is a good and decent man, and I felt no joy watching this unfold over the past two weeks.

Again, this matter is under investigation, and criminal charges may be filed. Police say the investigation will likely take months. If the DA believes a crime was committed, and a jury agrees, we will definitely report on it.

But if no charges are filed, and it turns out this man’s career and reputation have been permanently besmirched, in part due to homophobic hysteria, then shame on us.

It’ll soon be 2023. We’re Californians. As such we have long been at the vanguard of recognizing and codifying the safety, rights, and equal protection of our LGBTQ neighbors.

We should do better.

1 Comment

  1. beatrice@opheliasjump.org

    Thank you for having the courage to call this out, Mick.

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