Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Online extra: Political Notes:
City taps lesbian, gay man as Olympic torch bearers


Olympic torchbearers Shirley Olivo looks on as Helen Zia is congratulated by Mayor Gavin Newsom at a news conference announcing Olympic torch relay participants. Photo: Bill Wilson
Print this Page
Send to a Friend
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on MySpace!

San Francisco has included at least two members of the LGBT community in its picks of Olympic torchbearers: award-winning journalist Helen Zia and longtime AIDS survivor John Caldera.

LGBT ally Shirley Olivo, a 75-year-old native San Franciscan and Eucharist minister at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in the Castro, will also help carry the torch. Olivo serves on the board of the San Francisco PFLAG chapter and is carrying the torch on behalf of her grandson, a Special Olympics medal winner.

The trio is among the 34 people city officials selected out of 530 applicants from the United States, Canada, and Mexico who submitted essays through the torch relay's Web site T he Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games has final approval over those selected.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, with Zia and Olivo by his side, released the list of individuals "of inspiration, courage and selflessness" at a news conference Friday, April 4 at Chinatown's Portsmouth Square.

A beaming Olivo told reporters that, "I love my city; it is so diversified" before plugging both her church and PFLAG.

Other notable names of people selected include former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown; City Administrator Ed Lee; Raj Mathai, the local NBC affiliate's sports director who has reported on the last three Olympic Games; and Olympic gold medalists Jill Savery from Sacramento and Mark Henderson from Oakland.

Another 46 people will help carry the Olympic flame Wednesday, April 9 as it makes its way along a six-mile course along San Francisco's waterfront. The additional torchbearers were selected by Newsom; Beijing organizers; the United States Olympic Committee; and the relay's corporate sponsors: the Coca-Cola Company, Lenovo, and Samsung.

The torch will travel to 22 international cities before returning to mainland China where it will traverse the country for more than three months. Having been carried by more than 21,000 runners, the flame will enter the Olympic Stadium as part of the opening ceremony of the XXIX Olympiad on August 8.

The Bay Area Reporter first reported on Caldera being selected to help carry the torch on its Web site Thursday, April 4. The 43-year-old gay man is an HIV-positive Navy veteran who serves on the city's Veterans Affairs Commission.

In his application Caldera wrote that he has "one of the lowest carbon-footprints of almost everyone I know; I do not own a car, I walk often and everywhere. I advocate the values of Olympism by practicing what I preach, a body in motion, stays in motion."

Caldera, 43, is a first-generation Mexican American who grew up in Southern California in a military family. He served in the Navy from 1983 to 1987, with his last deployment at the now decommissioned Oak Knoll Navy Hospital in the Oakland foothills. He has lived in San Francisco for the last 21 years.

"I am very, very proud to be carrying the torch and representing the city on its only North American stop on the way to the Olympic Games," said Caldera, commander of the Robert "Bob" Basker Post 315 of the American Legion – the only post named after an openly gay WW II Army veteran.

In November 1995 he learned that he had AIDS and that he only had seven T-cells left. Today, he said his T-cell count is 298 and his viral load is undetectable.

"I am on one pill a day. I have a happy life," said Caldera.

He said in late March he was notified he had been selected through the city's contest and was forced to sign a four-page code of conduct detailing what he could and could not do as a torchbearer.

"I can only run with it, I can't walk with it," he said. "I swore my life away I would not steal the torch."

The torch relay has elicited controversy for weeks, as protesters ranging from Falun Gong to pro-Tibet groups and those upset with China's dealings with Darfur have tangled with city officials over permits to rally along the relay route. The recent crisis in Tibet, where protesters clashed with Chinese security officers, has also heightened tensions around the torch's visit.

While he said he did consider dropping out due to the violence in Tibet, ultimately Caldera decided he could not let the opportunity pass by.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. No one in my family has been a torchbearer," said Caldera. "Those who want to protest should be able to protest. I just hope I don't get hit with tomatoes."

Oakland resident Zia, 55, earlier this year had been in Shanghai doing research for a new book as a Fulbright scholar. She traveled to Beijing in 1995 to the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women as part of a journalists of color delegation. In 2004 she married her partner, Lia Shigemura, during San Francisco's "Winter of Love" and has been an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage.

At the news conference last week, she said she was still in China when she received the news that she had been selected.

"I was very

Olympic torchbearer John Caldera. Photo: Rick Gerharter
honored and humbled by the idea of even carrying the torch. I think the Olympic spirit and the Olympic vision of bringing people of the countries of the world together is really the whole point," said Zia.

A former executive editor of Ms. magazine, Zia authored of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People, which received wide attention when President Bill Clinton quoted from it, and later, when it was a finalist for the prestigious Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize.

She also co-authored with Wen Ho Lee My Country Versus Me, which reveals what happened to the Los Alamos scientist who was falsely accused of being a spy for the People's Republic of China.

She said she is a human rights activist herself and that the Chinese people should not be judged by their government's actions.

"Having lived there, I know the people of China really should be separated out from the government of China. The people of China are really excited about the Olympics happening in China," said Zia.

The relay is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at McCovey Cove near AT&T Park. The route takes the torch along the Embarcadero and the Fisherman's Wharf areas before concluding at Justin Herman Plaza.

Leno, Cabaldon announce endorsements

San Francisco State Assemblyman Mark Leno today (Monday, April 7) received the backing of a former opponent in his Democratic primary bid for the state Senate seat held by Carole Migden (D-San Francisco). The two gay lawmakers are in a heated three-way race with former Marin Assemblyman Joe Nation in the June 3 primary.

San Francisco Police Commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese, who dropped out of the race in March when it became clear he had no chance of winning the 3rd District Senate seat, gave his endorsement to Leno at a Civic Center press conference this morning.

Joining Veronese and Leno were Newsom and San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty, both of whom had previously announced they're backing Leno in the race. Also on hand to speak about why voters should elect Leno to the seat were Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and District Attorney Kamala Harris.

Last week termed out Assemblywoman Lois Wolk endorsed West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon as her replacement in the 8th Assembly District, which includes the cities of West Sacramento, Woodland, Davis, Dixon, Winters, Fairfield, Vacaville, Suisun City, Rio Vista, and Benicia.

Cabaldon is considered the frontrunner in his race against Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada. Along with Wolk, her two predecessors in the seat, Tom Hannigan and Helen Thomson, are also backing Cabaldon's candidacy.

"I know both candidates well. But not only does Christopher have the experience, he has the skill set, the ability to negotiate, navigate the political minefield, and find workable solutions. He has intimate knowledge of the legislative process and will hit the ground running next January," Wolk said at the April 4 event on the Suisun City waterfront, according to a statement.

Thomson added, "Christopher is a perfect fit for the district and is the best person who will get the job done for Solano and Yolo and will continue take on the fight for our progressive values. That's why he's earned the official endorsement of the Democratic Party."

Gays seek Dem delegate slots

Around the Bay Area several LGBT people are running in this weekend's elections to be delegates at the Democratic Party's presidential convention in Denver this August. In each congressional district on Sunday, April 13 will be elections to choose delegates for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Among the Clinton candidates are Laura Spanjian and Clay Doherty in San Francisco's 8th District; Leslie Katz in the city's 12th District; Michael Colbruno in Oakland's 9th District; and Father Lou A. Bordisso in the North Bay's 7th District.

Obama's candidates include Rebecca Prozan, Rick Galbreath, Paul Hogarth, and Brian Leubitz in the 8th District; and Santa Clara Supervisor Ken Yeager and Omar Torres, a former student of Yeager's, in San Jose's 16th District.

The caucuses begin at 3 p.m. and those wishing to vote can register starting at 2 p.m. The California Democratic Party has listed locations for both candidates on its Web site.

For Clinton, go to

For Obama, go to

Follow The Bay Area Reporter
facebook logo
facebook logo
Newsletter logo
Newsletter logo
ISSUU logo