Decency loses again with Isla Vista landlord’s homophobic rant

The video of an Isla Vista landlord cursing out a gay community leader with a litany of homophobic slurs in the middle of downtown Santa Barbara was one of the more despicable — and predictable — displays of personal ugliness I’ve seen in some time.

It’s also something that should not be sanitized or secreted away.

On the contrary, I’d call it mandatory viewing for anyone unclear on the fact that we’re navigating one of the most hateful times in recent American history.

On Nov. 7, James Gelb, a landowner whose 66-unit portfolio of blufftop properties on Del Playa Drive is listed for sale in excess of $79 million, got into a heated exchange with Ethan Bertrand, the board president of the Isla Vista Community Services District.

It’s unclear what sparked the incident, but the portion captured on video shows 98 seconds of an unhinged Gelb castigating the soft-spoken Bertrand, who accused Gelb of treating his tenants “very poorly” before calmly trying to de-escalate the situation, eventually by walking away.

But Gelb would have none of it and stalked Bertrand down touristy State Street unleashing a litany of invective, proving three things in the process:

1. He has a savant’s grasp of the f-bomb, spitting out no less than five different uses of the word like he was reciting from the Urban Dictionary: “F--- you,” “you little f---,” “who the f--- do you think you are?,” “it is none of your f------ business,” etc.

2. He’s rich and wants everyone to know it: “What’s your net worth, you little f-----?”

3. He’s a rank homophobe: “You walk like a f---ing fag, and I know you’re a fag.”

Gelb told the online news site that Bertrand called him a “pedophile” and a “felon” before the camera started rolling. “To me, those are fighting words,” he said.

He also said he’s been “the daily target of UCSB students’ condescension, pranks and mocking over the years. They routinely hurl obscenities at me, trying to spark a reaction with their cell phones ready.”

He blamed his outburst on Asperger’s Syndrome, which he said “has caused me and my loved ones great pain.” And he said his brother was gay and died of AIDS, as if that’s supposed to give him a get-out-of-jail free card for his gay-hating rant.

But that’s what he may need soon, with the Santa Barbara County district attorney filing misdemeanor disturbing-the-peace charges against him.

I don’t know the back story of this relationship, but it sounds pretty toxic.

Gelb says Bertrand baited him, and if that’s the case, he’s the most gullible trout in the stream.

And yet, that still doesn’t excuse his bilious public display, which we are simply seeing too much of these days.

Everywhere we turn, there’s another entitled, rich, powerful man behaving badly.

Some take advantage of women. Others abuse children. Some ridicule minorities. Others just spew narrow-minded hate to whoever will listen. Some are in Hollywood. Others are trying to get elected to Congress after they’ve been thrown out of the courthouse twice and have been accused of trolling for teenage girls by no less than five people.

It’s on TV, on the street corner, and in the Oval Office.

When will it stop?

Not until we pry back the national narrative and restore decency to public discourse. Not until we trade arrogance and aggression for modesty and kindness.

It’s time for the crude trash-talking and schoolyard bullying to end. It’s time for men to act like respectable adults, not petulant little boys.

Joe Tarica: 805-781-7911, @joetarica

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