In his current job, people address him as “Your Honor.” The description of his old job—“complex litigation”—pretty much stops most of us in our small-talk tracks (“So, uh, is that fun?”). But it turns out that when Judge Dean Hansell talks about how his more than 20 years of social justice activism and civic engagement informs his philanthropy, his perspective is authentically, even stubbornly grassroots. He zeroes in on what individuals experience, on what stands in the way of justice for each person.
The son of civic-minded parents and grandparents, Dean Hansell served on his first board (of a civil rights organization in rural Tennessee) when he was still a college undergraduate. He has been a Los Angeles Police Commissioner, and an L.A. Fire and Police Pensions Commissioner, and an L.A. City Information Technology Commissioner. He’s also been a supporter of Liberty Hill’s Commissions Training program, which prepares community leaders to become advocates within local government structures and readies them to serve on city boards and commissions.
“There are, in L.A. County, tremendous human assets, people with great talent that really reflect L.A.’s diversity. But many of them have never served on a committee of any sort because they’ve never had access. So Liberty Hill gets great credit for first of all planting the seed with people that maybe they can serve on a commission, and then for giving them the tools to become an effective commissioner or advocate.”
Last year, as Chair of the Working Group set up by the County Supervisors to define the new Civilian Oversight Commission for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, he was alert to the testimony of members of community organizing groups supported by Liberty Hill. “They really influenced our thinking. There were 20 people, maybe a bit more, that were literally at almost every one of our meetings. That’s really what you want in our participatory democracy. To be very diligent and attend all the meetings. That’s not easy. But they did and they presented testimony.”
At the heart of Dean’s service is a personal search for justice. As a co-founder in 1985 of GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), Dean was tackling broad cultural issues affecting LGBTQ people, and influencing the words and images that gave life to these issues. At the same time, when a friend couldn’t get the wording she wanted on a make-your-own Hallmark greeting card, he pushed the company to update its card machines to include the word “lesbian.” Meanwhile, the GLAAD-LA phone hotline for reporting media defamation was situated in his house. That ability to see both big and seemingly small ways to make a change has served him well in his community service roles.
Public service, personal philanthropy. The broad scope and the close view. The community and the individual. The state ballot initiative and the greeting card. Dean Hansell is on the job.