Political Notebook: L.A. mayor to attend HRC gala
by Matthew S. Bajko
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is being criticized by local LGBT leaders for agreeing to give the keynote political speech at this year's Human Rights Campaign gala in San Francisco.
LGBT groups and city leaders upset with the national gay lobbyist group's stance on a federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act are boycotting the Saturday, July 26 event at the Westin St. Francis. The controversy stems from HRC's decision last fall not to oppose ENDA after it had been stripped of transgender protections.
While HRC leaders contend they are committed to seeing a trans-inclusive version of ENDA passed in Congress, they have so far refused demands that they commit to only back a fully inclusive version of the bill. In response, HRC's detractors are hosting their own "Left Out" party in front of the hotel.
Most of the city's political leadership who would normally attend the HRC fundraiser are either joining in the boycott or have said they will be out of town and cannot attend. To date, only Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) has spoken out against the protest, calling it misguided. Nevertheless, Speier also is unable to attend.
Filling the political vacuum will be Villaraigosa and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-Marin). As the Bay Area Reporter first reported on its Web site Monday, July 21 Woolsey's office has declined to comment on her decision to attend the event.
A spokesman for the L.A. mayor said he could only comment on background due to the event being a political fundraiser. HRC is offering its attendees to designate their ticket cost toward the campaign to defeat an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment on the fall ballot.
Because of his desire to defeat the measure, numbered Proposition 8 by election officials, Villaraigosa accepted HRC's invitation, according to his spokesman. Boycott supporters counter that his presence at the dinner could come back to haunt him should he enter the 2010 gubernatorial Democratic primary, where one of his main opponents likely will be San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has already established an exploratory committee to raise money for a gubernatorial race.
"I think the mayor of L.A. is coming here thinking he is supporting a universally accepted gay movement in San Francisco, the gay mecca of the state. In reality he is lessening his chances, not furthering his chances" should he run for governor, San Francisco Police Commission President Theresa Sparks, a transgender woman helping to plan the Left Out protest, told the B.A.R.
Robert Haaland, a transgender activist and labor leader with Pride at Work, which is the main organizer of the boycott, was also critical of Villaraigosa's HRC dinner appearance, especially since the boycott has been endorsed by the local labor council.
"They're having to import people from out of town because no one locally will do it. It shows how desperate they have become," said Haaland.
HRC spokesman Brad Luna said the agency invited both Villaraigosa and Woolsey to the dinner to add some star political power to the event.
"We obviously wanted to try to get high profile individuals to be participating in the dinner," said Luna. "The mayor of Los Angeles is a nationally-recognized figure who we thought could bring some good attention to the dinner."
Also attending the dinner will be actress Marlee Matlin , who will give a keynote address, and Diego Sanchez, a transgender member of HRC's Business Council, whose speech has been billed as a "personal perspective on the path to fully inclusive legislation that involves, unites and includes HRC, other organizations, Congress and the community at large."
Sanchez said he would be remiss in not using the opportunity to address the crowd on the need for gender and identity protections. He plans to also speak with the protesters that night about their concerns.
"It makes me very sad that there are events where people feel that we can't be in one place, but I also understand that is a reality at this juncture. All I can do is to continue to operate with integrity and have my community and our future in my focus and what I do as a priority," said Sanchez, who lives in Boston. "I understand the importance of all voices being heard and I respect people for using the venue they feel most comfortable and most necessary to speak about the importance of our lives and I am doing the same thing."
Haaland emphasized that the protest will be a "festive event," complete with music and its own awards ceremony to honor those politicians supporting the boycott. He said those attending HRC's gala will be handed invitations to the countergala.
"We've been pretty consistent in what we want: an inclusive ENDA. How we get there, we don't care," said Haaland.
Luna said HRC shares the same goals as those protesting the agency, but that both sides differ on what tactics should be used to achieve success.
"The protesters have said we don't support a fully-inclusive bill. That is not true; we do. The way we get to that bill is in disagreement," he said. "What is important for us is to find a way we can work with everyone in the community to accomplish that goal."
HRC ads criticized
Adding to HRC's detractors' ire are two ad campaigns the group has launched locally. One is radio-based on dance station Energy 92.7 that touts this year's gala and encourages people to attend and hear for themselves how HRC is advocating for transgender rights.
"How 1984? They should be ashamed of themselves," said Haaland of the ads.
The second campaign involves billboards in the Castro featuring people from various demographic groups, including a transgender woman, with the tagline "I am HRC" and state that the organization is "working for LGBT equality."
"I am really pleased that they are so concerned with the message and the truth we are putting out about their integrity and attitudes toward this that they are having to put up fraudulent posters and do ridiculous radio ads to convince people they are doing something that they are not. And that is advocating for our rights," said Sparks.
The four people featured in the HRC ads are in fact real people from the Washington, D.C. area who support the agency. The transgender woman's name is Toni Collins , and according to HRC, Collins reviewed the final ads and was "wholeheartedly supportive of the campaign."
Tom Floyd, one of the volunteer co-chairs of the local gala, said the radio ads are meant to counteract the misinformation being spread about HRC.
"There are a lot of things said out there about what HRC has and has not done, but HRC has always advocated for trans inclusive legislation. ENDA is definitely its own special circumstance and something HRC is not happy with," said Floyd. "HRC is not happy with the path congressional leaders have taken on ENDA and is trying to change that."
Floyd said tickets are still available as the dinner has yet to sell out. HRC expects less than 1,000 people to attend this year's gala.
With his wedding this Saturday night to his fiancee Jennifer Siebel at her family's Montana ranch, Newsom has been able to largely avoid the controversy swirling around this year's HRC event. Newsom, in fact, will be flying down to Villaraigosa's home turf next month to accept an award at Equality California's annual L.A. dinner, an event that is not being boycotted.
Newsom is already in the Big Sky state preparing for his big day, the plans of which have been kept under wraps. Asked this week if any LGBT politicians or leaders would be witnessing Newsom's nuptials, his spokesman Nathan Ballard declined to comment.
Nor is it clear if the pro-same-sex marriage politico has asked his wedding guests to forgo gifts, and instead, donate to the campaign to defeat Prop 8, like many same-sex couples exchanging wedding vows this summer are requesting their friends and family do.
When asked about it, Ballard wrote in an e-mail response, "The mayor has been actively fundraising to defeat Prop 8, and he has encouraged his friends to help in any way they can."
A search of state campaign finance data this week to see how much Newsom had donated to the campaign came up blank. A spokeswoman for Equality California said the organization didn't know if Newsom had made a personal donation to the No on Prop 8 campaign.
Web Extra: To see who won the showdown Wednesday, July 23 to become chair of the local Democratic Party – openly gay incumbent Scott Wiener or Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin – visit the Bay Area Reporter's Web site at http://www.ebar.com.
Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail mailto:.