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Political Notebook: East Bay LGBT Dem club fails to endorse in Assembly race

by Matthew S. Bajko

Assembly candidates Andy Katz, left, and Owen Poindexter spoke at last month's forum hosted by the East Bay Stonewall and Lambda Democratic clubs. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Assembly candidates Andy Katz, left, and Owen Poindexter spoke at last month's forum hosted by the East Bay Stonewall and Lambda Democratic clubs. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland  

Should one of the three out candidates seeking the 15th Assembly District seat this year win, they would be the first LGBT state lawmaker from the East Bay. Yet none were able to win the backing of the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club.

The main LGBT political club for Alameda County, Stonewall's members failed to coalesce around either of the two lesbians in the race - Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles and Berkeley school board member Judy Appel - or bisexual East Bay Municipal Utility District board member Andy Katz when they voted on the endorsement Wednesday, March 21. Like the out candidates, none of the five straight Democratic candidates who had sought the club's support were able to meet the 60 percent threshold needed to secure the endorsement.

Former Obama administration staffer Buffy Wicks, Berkeley City Councilman Ben Bartlett, and Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb all sought Stonewall's endorsement, as did blogger Owen Poindexter and disability rights activist Cheryl Sudduth. El Cerrito City Councilwoman Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, who took part in a candidate forum the Stonewall co-hosted last month, did not turn in a questionnaire and was therefore ineligible to be endorsed by the club.

Of Stonewall's 214 members, 56 voted at last week's meeting. The lack of an endorsement in the race was hardly a surprise, as there are few policy differences between the candidates and any one of them could win the seat.

The district stretches from Richmond south into parts of Oakland. The incumbent, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), is running to be the state's superintendent of public instruction after serving two two-year terms in the Legislature. He has endorsed Pardue-Okimoto in the Assembly race.

Nick Resnick, who was elected Stonewall's new president last week, told the Bay Area Reporter the club members split their votes among a number of the candidates. He declined to disclose who received the most support.

"I wouldn't call it disappointing," Resnick said the outcome of the vote. "It may speak to the momentum more than one individual has within our community at this time."

Having three qualified LGBT candidates in the race, noted Resnick, "is a testament" to the political maturity of the East Bay's LGBT community and the work that Stonewall has done over the years to help elect LGBT people to local office. As the B.A.R. noted during the 2016 election cycle, a record number of out candidates ran for political office in the East Bay, which now sports more LGBT elected officials than San Francisco.

"I am excited to take on this leadership role with the board and continue moving the vision of the club forward," said Resnick, who succeeded Brendalynn Goodall, the club's president since 2014.

Resnick, a transgender man who turns 33 on Monday, is expecting his second child with his wife this summer. A senior program manager for the nonprofit California Education Partners, he lost his bid in 2016 for a seat on the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees. He told the B.A.R. he has no plans to run for public office "this year."

One of his goals as Stonewall's new leader is to encourage more transgender and gender queer individuals to join the club. He would also like to recruit more queer families and LGBT youth to become members. (Memberships cost $30 a year though there are reduced rates for students, seniors, and those on a fixed-income.)

"I want to make sure there is equal access and opportunity for everyone in our community as well as marginalized communities around the East Bay," said Resnick.

Overseeing the Stonewall club's political action committee will be gay Emeryville City Councilman John Bauters, who is serving a term as mayor this year. He succeeded longtime PAC chair Michael Colbruno, who oversaw last week's endorsement vote.

In a guest opinion he penned for last Thursday's B.A.R., Colbruno explained that one of his reasons for stepping down from Stonewall's board had to due with being called "exclusionary" for using the acronym LGBT and not longer variations of the shorthand umbrella term used for the community. He also wrote about being yelled at by a San Francisco City Hall employee for not asking someone what pronoun they preferred and cautioned against thinking of "me" rather than the larger "community."

Resnick said Colbruno's reasons came as a surprise to him and that he disagreed with his conclusions regarding what pronouns and community acronym to use.

"It is something to talk about and understand and build community around our shared values over time," he said.

Heading into a pivotal election year, Resnick said the Stonewall club is well positioned to have an impact at the ballot box and advance LGBT causes.

"I look forward to really stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and keeping that momentum alive," he said.

To learn more about the club or to join, visit its website at https://eastbaystonewalldemocrats.org/.

In a first, EQCA endorses Republicans
For the first time since it began endorsing candidates, Equality California is supporting two Republican state lawmakers seeking re-election this fall.

The statewide LGBT advocacy group will announce Thursday that it is endorsing Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-Dublin), the lone GOP legislator from the Bay Area. Since winning her 16th District seat two years ago, Baker earned a 100 percent score on EQCA's Legislative Scorecard in 2016 and a 90 percent last year.

The endorsement is hardly a surprise, as the B.A.R. reported in January that EQCA was likely to back Baker's bid for a second term if she scored a 100 percent on its candidate questionnaire and had an acceptable explanation for why she opposed two bills it sponsored last year. Baker voted against amending the state's sex offender registry and making it easier for transgender inmates to legally change their name and sex.

EQCA's political action committee is also announcing Thursday a dual endorsement of Assemblyman Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego) and his lesbian opponent, real estate agent Sunday Gover. The former San Diego city councilman has consistently received high scores from EQCA since being elected to his 77th Assembly District seat in 2012.

He earned 100 percent on EQCA's 2017 scorecard but only an 80 percent in 2016. As with Baker, Maienschein was invited to seek EQCA's endorsement but had to explain his past votes.

EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur told the B.A.R. that advancing LGBT rights requires allies like Baker and Maienschein who are able to stand up to the anti-LGBT voices within the Republican Party.

"Catharine has been a great friend and ally to LGBTQ Californians and consistently fights for her constituents, rather than the red team or the blue team, earning our endorsement for another term in the Assembly," stated Zbur.

Maienschein has also shown he "cares more about doing the right thing for LGBTQ San Diegans than about whether legislative authors have a 'D' or an 'R' next to their names," added Zbur. "As California faces a growing homelessness and housing affordability crisis, Brian has consistently reached across the aisle to fight for common sense solutions, even when it meant bucking his party leadership."

EQCA also endorsed Gover, explained Zbur, because if she wins the race she will "help ensure every child has a safe and supportive public school, that California families have access to quality affordable healthcare and that everyone has a shot at the American Dream."

Feinstein receives EQCA endorsement
On Tuesday EQCA endorsed U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) for re-election this year. She is being challenged for her seat by state Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who stepped down last week as leader of the Legislature's upper chamber.

In a statement Zbur called Feinstein "a champion for LGBTQ equality and social justice."

Polling shows the race is Feinstein's to lose. And in a sign of her campaign's strength, no serious Republican challenger entered the race.

"I'm proud to receive the endorsement of Equality California, a powerful advocate for LGBTQ civil rights in our state. Together, in this campaign and in the U.S. Senate, we will continue fighting for progress and equality for the LGBTQ community in California and across the United State," stated Feinstein.

Zbur did praise de León "for his years of service in the California Legislature, leading the way toward a more equal and more just future for our community and all Californians."

SF Dem club LGBT group debuts with refuge panel
The United Democratic Club of San Francisco has created an LGBTQ Committee for its members. It will make its public debut April 5 with a panel called "LGBTQ Persecution and Refuge" at the city's LGBT Community Center.

The discussion will focus on LGBT persecution in the Middle East, Russia, and Asia and how the local LGBT community can help, said club member Joel Engardio, a gay man and local journalist who has twice run for supervisor in the city's District 7 covering neighborhoods west of Twin Peaks.

"We started the LGBTQ Committee because we figured there must be a number of LGBTQ members within United Dems and we wanted to give them a space and some programming," Engardio, who writes a column for the San Francisco Examiner, told the B.A.R.

Those scheduled to take part in the panel discussion include OutRight Action International West Coast director Katie Hultquist; Sophia Kass, a transgender refugee from Lebanon seeking asylum in the Bay Area; and Olga Baranova, who works with the Moscow Community Center for LGBT programs but is living in San Francisco.

In a statement translated from Russian that Engardio provided to the B.A.R., Baranova explained that the center works with both LGBT people and straight activists who find themselves in a "semi-legal position" in Russia. She fled the country because it was no longer safe for her there.

"In Russia there remain almost no places where people can be open and free, and we were able to create such a place," wrote Baranova, who helped organize an arts festival hosted by the center. "We are aiming to make the Moscow Community Center for LGBT programs not just a place where people can receive psychological and legal help, but also a platform for creating new directions in activism; a place for any people for whom there is no room in Putin's Russia."

The panel discussion will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 5, in Room 204 at the LGBT Community Center, located at 1800 Market Street. It is free and open to the public.

To RSVP, visit the United Democratic Club's Facebook page for the panel at https://www.facebook.com/events/159557511509681/.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on two key policy fights awaiting newly installed lesbian CA Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego).
Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes .
Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com .

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