Reese Isbell

Reese Isbell
Alice Em and PAC Board, Former Co-Chair

Reese Isbell
Alice Em and PAC Board, Former Co-Chair

For the last 20 years, no straight-identified person has run for and won the San Francisco Assembly District covering the eastern half of the City. Since Willie Brown’s final run for Assembly in 1994 the candidates and elected officials from this seat have all come from our LGBT community: 1996-2002 Carole Migden; 2002-2008 Mark Leno; 2008-2014 Tom Ammiano. Each of them went to Sacramento as Alice’s endorsed candidate.

This year, term limits have opened the seat up to new candidates. And once again an LGBT-identified candidate is running for the seat. However, for the first time since 1994, a candidate who identifies as a straight-ally is also running. Both candidates have credible chances to win this seat. This new scenario certainly raises questions about our LGBT representation, community growth over the last 20 years, and the concept of a ‘gay seat.’

So what has changed over the last 20 years in respective to LGBT candidacies? In 1996 when San Francisco elected Carole Migden to the Assembly, there was only one other LGBT-identified person in the state legislature. Sheila Kuehl ran in 1994 from Santa Monica as an openly lesbian candidate and won, becoming the first LGBT-identified person in the Assembly, ever. Migden from San Francisco joined her in 1996 and became the second. It took another four years, but in 2000, two more lesbians went to the Assembly: Los Angeles’ Jackie Goldberg and San Diego’s Christine Kehoe, while Kuehl jumped up to the Senate as the first in that chamber, ever.

In 2002 the four women created the first LGBT Caucus (http://lgbtcaucus.legislature.ca.gov/) in the California legislature, modeled after the historic African-American Caucus (formed in 1967), Latino Caucus (1973), and the then newly-founded Asian & Pacific Islander Caucus (2001). Over the decade of the 2000’s, four more LGBT-identified electeds joined the Caucus, creating a group of state representatives who were sent from mostly urban districts with strong LGBT populations.

Things changed quickly for our community statewide and by 2010 another five went to Sacramento. This time, they weren’t just being sent from the usual urban centers; the new crop of openly LGBT officials represented diverse areas of the state, including the likes of Livingston, Menlo Park, Stockton, and Bell Gardens. LGBT candidates were running in races, and often winning, in places all over California for elections at the local, state, and even federal levels. By 2012, the state of California even had its first LGBT member of Congress—not from San Francisco or Los Angeles or San Diego or any of those other urban cores, but from the quieter world of Riverside!

So what does this all mean for us here in San Francisco regarding our 20-year-old ‘gay seat’ covering our large and active LGBT population? Personally, I know the power of having one of our own representing us. Working as an aide for Mark Leno in the Assembly and Senate showed me what can be accomplished, and how we can create change, when we have someone living open and proud in this role. As such, I personally take into account someone being from our own community very seriously when determining my choice in an election. I don’t always end up voting for every LGBT candidate, but I certainly give them each great respect and admiration for being out and proud and being a representative of our lives.

On the flip side, I think we’ve all noticed a growing amount of understanding and support from the straight community of who we are and our issues. Our straight allies throughout the City, state, and nation have helped to create great positive change on our issues, exponentially so in the last decade. Were it not for our straight allies and their stalwart work in often difficult times, we would not currently have marriage equality in California and an increasing number of other states. Nowadays, the LGBT-sponsored legislation in Sacramento is pushed even further forward by many straight lawmakers seeking out opportunities to work with us. Through straight allies working closely with the aforementioned LGBT Caucus, the statewide organization Equality California, and their own individual district’s growing numbers of open LGBT constituents, unprecedented pro-LGBT legislative accomplishments have been made, many sponsored and pushed by these straight-allies.

This year, in San Francisco, we have a new type of choice before us for our Assembly representation: an open and proud gay member of our own community or a straight-ally with a strong LGBT record. We all have much to consider in determining our upcoming vote in this election. Which person we choose to send to Sacramento this year will not necessarily tell us what new community changes or legislative achievements we will gain in the next 20 years. However, as we make our decisions individually in the voting booth, and as a community, we know it will be another step in the amazing journey we have made so far in such a short period of time. Alice has once again begun the club’s robust dialogue on its endorsements. I know we will give this decision for this special seat especially thoughtful and careful consideration. As members, be sure to be part of this year’s unique conversation and upcoming vote.

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