It’s rare that the New York Times focuses on the city of Vallejo, a recovering Navy city between the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento. However, a recent article lit the region on fire when Mayor Osby Davis was quoted saying gays were “committing sin, and that sin will keep them out of heaven.” This has touched off vitriolic comments against gays and strong reactions from supporters and opponents of the Mayor.
As a Vallejo councilmember, and the only openly gay elected official in our community, I was shocked and hurt by his comments. Growing up gay and questioning why I was different was never easy. Words like “sinner,” “sissy” and “faggot” hurt even when not directed at me personally.
The ensuing conflict here in Vallejo has focused everyday citizens into a debate over how gays are seen in our community. But while this is momentary drama for most residents, this is an everyday issue for gay men and women like me who constantly deal with the struggle for rights and respect.
In Sacramento we are on the verge of electing the first openly gay state house leader in the country. This is a reason to celebrate, but many of us can’t help but notice the blogs and news comments wildly attacking his sexual orientation. Like so much about the struggles for civil rights, it seems that two steps forward is almost immediately met with one step back.
Statewide and nationally we know that attitudes towards gays are more positive than ever. Pop culture is flush with gay characters in TV and films, there are more openly gay actors and celebrities, and local elected officials like the new Mayor of Campbell, Evan Low, are continuing to break barriers. Yet, ballot measures and legislation to grant marriage equality to same sex couples have been failing coast to coast.
Many of the protesters in Vallejo have the luxury of focusing on the issue of the moment, but those of us that have been getting shot at for years know the battle will be longer lasting. This is why my response to the mayor’s comments has been different than many activists expected.
Instead of alienating Mayor Davis and disparaging his faith, I have invited him into my home to meet my husband, Peter. I have taken the Mayor to a reception hosted by Gay and Lesbian elected officials from throughout the state. I have talked to him about my years in seminary and my faith, and plan on continuing to work with him in a journey of understanding the love that all couples, gay and straight, share.
The headlines and controversies will come and go, but I hope people like Assemblyman John A. Perez, Mayor Low, myself and the dozens of openly gay elected officials throughout California will focus on the long-term strategies to build support for our civil rights. Protests are great, but they alone don’t create solutions.
This coming year I will be one of several gay elected officials running for the legislature. At least three of us are among the 18,000 couples that have legally recognized pre-Prop 8 marriages, meaning that we will be the first gay and married legislators in the country. The ability of local LGBT officials to change hearts and minds will grow exponentially as we assume larger elected positions where can show the example of both love and leadership at the state level.