An Isla Vista landlord was filmed shouting homophobic slurs at Ethan Bertrand, the Isla Vista CSD president, in Downtown Santa Barbara on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
James Gelb, owner of Del Playa Rentals in I.V., began yelling profanities and homophobic slurs at Ethan Bertrand, president of the I.V. Community Services District at around 8 p.m. on a sidewalk on State Street.
The video was captured by a friend of Bertrand.
Gelb said he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome as a child. Its symptoms include difficulty with social situations, such as maintaining conversation and keeping eye contact.
In the video, Bertrand confronted Gelb about the landlord’s decision to sell all of his 37 properties in I.V.
Bertrand said to Gelb that he treats his tenants “very poorly.”
“I think it’s a really good idea you are selling your I.V. properties,” Bertrand told Gelb.
Gelb became upset and began to follow Bertrand down the 500 block of State Street, according to Bertrand.
“Just go fuck yourself. It’s none of your fucking business,” Gelb said to Bertrand.
Gelb continued to shout profanities and slurs at Bertrand as they walked down the sidewalk. Bertrand told Gelb to “get away” several times as he followed him.
The interaction escalated further when Gelb started to yell homophobic slurs at Bertrand, who is openly gay. Gelb called Bertrand a “fag” and “faggot” over 14 times in the one minute and 34 second video.
“Ethan took this one too far. I was baited and trapped,” Gelb said in the statement. “I regret taking the bait.”
Gelb also said that his brother was gay and died of AIDS in 1994. He said he has supported LGBTQ+ causes for years and will continue to do so in the future.
Bertrand said he has received “tremendous” support from law enforcement throughout the investigation.
Bertrand said Gelb’s “unnerving behavior” caused him to fear for his safety for the remainder of the evening following the interaction.
“I was especially disturbed when Mr. Gelb followed me down the sidewalk after I demanded three separate times he back away and get away,” Bertrand said.
“Local members of our LGBTQ community still face harassment, discrimination and oppressive violence and I think it’s really important that we as the larger Santa Barbara community denounce in the strongest terms this hate,” Bertrand added.
The Nexus received a copy of the video from Mollie Culver, a friend of Bertrand.
The Santa Barbara Police Department has referred the incident to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
Gelb said this is the first time he has publicly revealed he has Asperger’s Syndrome.
“Sometimes I say things without any social filter,” Gelb said in a statement. “I have struggled with its affliction throughout my entire life.”
Gelb said in a statement that Bertrand initially provoked him by calling him a “pedophile” and a “felon.” Bertrand denied the “baseless” claims in an email to the Nexus.
“Those are fighting words,” Gelb said in the statement. “All of this caused me to lose my cool and say things I now deeply regret.”
Gelb later said in the statement that he has been the “daily target” of bullying and “condescension” from UC Santa Barbara students and said students’ bullying has escalated more recently.
Bertrand told the Nexus he has received support after the incident from other public officials in the community, including state senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, U.S. representative Salud Carbajal, former U.S. representative Lois Capps, Santa Barbara mayor-elect Cathy Murillo, Santa Barbara county supervisor Janet Wolf and Santa Barbara Unified School board member Laura Capps.
Jose Ochoa contributed reporting.