News

LGBT eyes political clout for 2014

Identity politics is nothing new. It has helped drive the civil rights movements of women, African-Americans, Asian & Pacific Islanders (API) and Latinos.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in California, fresh off of achieving marriage equality, is now coming into its own, not only as an activist and lobbying driven group, but a group that is increasing its numbers in elected office.

“I think the political future is that we are going to elect the first ever openly gay statewide officer next year and LGBT candidates up and down the state,” said Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. “There is no doubt this is a political movement that has finally matured and there is a tremendous future.”

Sheila Kuehl

Sheila Kuehl (Photo: Alan Light)

The LGBT Caucus in the Legislature has eight members and it intends to have at least that many after next year’s elections. It’s a diverse coalition representing, rural, urban, suburban, coastal and inland interests. San Francisco is not the only city in the state that is represented by an LGBT person in both houses of the Legislature, but so is the Central Valley city of Stockton by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, and Assembly Member Susan Eggman, D-Stockton. San Diego has had an LGBT representative in at least one house of the Legislature for more than a decade.

This is a significant change from when then-Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, first descended upon Sacramento nearly twenty years ago. In the 90’s Kuehl was focused on getting the capitol comfortable with LGBT issues and creating an environment to pass legislation to help LGBT Californians.

“Well the priorities were really internal in terms making sure we could move legislation along. For some people it wasn’t easy for them to vote for LGBT bills,” Kuehl said. “I was elected in ’94, but it took me until ‘99 to get the gay student bill passed in the Legislature.”

“We have eight members of the caucus at this point and several members are nearing the point where they are termed out,” said LGBT Caucus Chair Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park.

“It doesn’t seem like much today, but getting a day in June where we had a display in the rotunda was historic in the state,” Kuehl added.

On the Offensive

With eight members, the LGBT Caucus is going on the offensive: Speaker John Perez and Assembly Member Tom Ammiano are termed out in 2014 and the caucus is concerned about not only maintaining their membership, but also growing it.

Earlier this year, the caucus held one if its first big fundraisers, where it raised tens of thousands of dollars. This is in stark contrast to the past when the caucus functioned on just a few thousand dollars in order to pay for its annual awards ceremony in the Capitol.

“We have eight members of the caucus at this point and several members are nearing the point where they are termed out,” said LGBT Caucus Chair Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park. “Part of our thought in order to maintain a viable caucus we need to have the funds to support and assist LGBT candidates for the State Legislature.”

The Latino Caucus became sizeable in the ‘90’s, and because of their sheer numbers across the state they are impossible to ignore.

“I think we are interested in growing our caucus wherever we can find a viable candidate in any district,” added Gordon. “When I am termed out I don’t think there is a gay candidate that necessarily follows me and that why it is important to look broadly across the state at potential candidates.”

“There are 120 seats in the legislature, 10 percent would be 12 seats. We are just getting to just about proportional representation,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

Growing Pains

The API, Black and Latino Caucuses have been aggressive fundraisers over the years doling out money to support candidates in their respective communities.

The Black Caucus has always been a significant force in Sacramento, especially under the Willie Brown, Jr. years, when he wielded the speaker’s gavel for 14 years. The Latino Caucus became sizeable in the ‘90’s, and because of their sheer numbers across the state they are impossible to ignore.

Similar to the LGBT Caucus, the API Caucus came into its own a bit later. The caucus was founded in 2001, just one year prior to the LGBT Caucus.

“I think that people at the time didn’t take Asians seriously,” said Bill Wong, former political director for the Asian American Small Business PAC. “They will eventually go away. It’s not like the Latino community where they have certain districts. At the time we never had a district with majority that would guarantee an Asian district.”

“Our priorities are about getting our legislative agenda successfully passed so a gay or straight vote is a vote, but having an LGBT person at the table is important,” said O’Connor.

“I think there is always growing pains and the API community is not homogenous. There are generational divides, regional divides, ethnic divides,” added Wong. “Latinos came through the labor movement or civil rights movement. Overall Latino and African Americans have a more homogenous agenda where Asians are more disparate.”

In addition to the LGBT Caucus, Equality California (EQCA), the largest statewide LGBT organization in the state, has also ramped up its fund-raising efforts to support LGBT candidates and allies.

“We have historically not given a lot money through our PAC but have made it a priority to fund-raise for that,” said EQCA President John O’Connor. “Last year 52 out of 57 of our endorsements won. We will be giving money strategically to help in some key races where that money can make a difference.”

EQCA is not necessarily focused on electing just LGBT candidates to the legislature, but candidates that are supportive of their issues and can be counted on to move legislation forward.

“Our priorities are about getting our legislative agenda successfully passed so a gay or straight vote is a vote, but having an LGBT person at the table is important,” said O’Connor. “Its not driving factor in our decision, it’s about 100% pro-equality candidates, but certainly LGBT voices are role models for our community and inspiration for young people breaking through barriers.”

Two members of the LGBT Caucus represent districts that are over two-thirds Latino, Speaker Pérez, D-Los Angeles, and state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

Somewhat similar to the Black Caucus and API Caucus, the LGBT Caucus cannot depend on electing candidates in districts where they dominate the vote, whereas the Latino Caucus has numerous districts that are majority Latino. This also creates a situation where many members in the LGBT Caucus are also members of other political constituencies.

“You can be gay or lesbian and African-American, Latino, white, middle-class, or poor,” said Bauman. “Being gay or lesbian or trans or bi may a factor, but not your only or primary focus. People’s loyalties are split, LGBT people in politics have multiple labels and concerns they are focused on.”

Two members of the LGBT Caucus represent districts that are over two-thirds Latino, Speaker Pérez, D-Los Angeles, and state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. Lara, along with some LGBT Latino allies decided to jump into fund-raising game nearly 10 years ago, before the LGBT Caucus with the creation of an organization called the Honor PAC, a LGBT Latino group that felt their interests as ethnic minorities in the LGBT community were not being met.

“The traditional LGBT community was failing to address the inequality issues of the LGBT Latino community,” said Lara. “We felt there were other issues beyond marriage and we needed to advocate as an organization by funding allies and LGBT Latino candidates.”

“What happens to LGBT immigrants in detention centers are unique to us. Some LGBT immigrants who are detained don’t have access to hormones, or don’t have access to HIV medications,” added Lara. “Those are stories and issues for us that aren’t addressed by mainstream folks.”

San Francisco

It is impossible to draw a district where the majority of residents are LGBT, but AD17 in the eastern half of San Francisco is perceived by many to be the most LGBT district in the state. Two San Francisco Supervisors have already announced their candidacies in that district, David Campos, who is gay and David Chiu, who is straight.

Although, San Francisco is known both nationally and internationally as the LGBT city, Los Angeles because of its sheer size has a large number of LGBT residents, most centered in the greater Hollywood area.

“LGBT officials are there because they are the best candidate to represent their district. They won their seats because of what they do and they are the most qualified candidates,” said O’Connor. “There may be some legacy developing particularly in San Francisco with Ammiano’s seat. There are many people that consider that an LGBT seat, but I don’t think about it in those ways.”

Leno represented this district from 2002-2008 and has not made an endorsement in the race and points out AD17 is quite diverse. For many AD19 in western San Francisco has been tagged the Asian Assembly District, which is represented by Phil Ting, but AD17 is 30 percent Asian and it is hard to imagine the LGBT population is greater than that.

“Sometimes the geography does not determine a race,” said Leno. “Eastern San Francisco, since 1996, that is pushing 18 years, has had gay or lesbian representation, but the demographics of the city continue to change and also the nature of identity politics, so we will see a case study in the Assembly race to succeed Ammiano.”

Los Angeles

Although, San Francisco is known both nationally and internationally as the LGBT city, Los Angeles because of its sheer size has a large number of LGBT residents, most centered in the greater Hollywood area.

From Echo Park in the east, through Silver Lake and Hollywood and into West Hollywood, there is a strong voting bloc of LGBT voters and supporters, but it’s interesting to note that arguably the most famous neighborhood in the country, Hollywood, has historically been divided between multiple districts, diluting the LGBT vote.

Although Hollywood and the LGBT community have never been unified in one district, such as the Castro in San Francisco, there still has been some success with LGBT members representing this area.

“The LGBT community in Los Angeles is spread out quite a bit more than in San Francisco. San Francisco is a city where there are two Assembly Districts and Los Angeles has 20 Assembly Districts,” said West Hollywood Council Member Jeff Prang. “West Hollywood, Hollywood and Silver Lake have a concentration of LGBT people but are divided between multiple Assembly Districts.”

Currently the greater Hollywood area is divided between five Assembly Districts, AD43-Gatto, AD46-Nazarian, AD50-Bloom, AD51-Gomez and AD53-Perez. These neighborhoods surrounding the Hollywood sign could easily be drawn into one Assembly district.

Although Hollywood and the LGBT community have never been unified in one district, such as the Castro in San Francisco, there still has been some success with LGBT members representing this area.

Sheila Kuehl, whose base was in western Los Angeles County in the Assembly, represented West Hollywood and Hollywood when she moved to the Senate; Jackie Goldberg represented portions of Echo Park, Silver Lake and Hollywood in Assembly, and following the last round redistricting Perez absorbed a portion of Hollywood for his last term in the Assembly.

Ed’s Note: Nik Bonovich, who writes on campaigns, demographics and politics, is a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly.

 


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: