Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Political Notebook: Lesbian icon backs Herrera for SF mayor


City Attorney Dennis Herrera has been endorsed by lesbian pioneer Phyllis Lyon in his bid to be San Francisco's next mayor. (Photo: Courtesy Herrera for Mayor campaign)
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One of the women who was the first to say "I do" on the morning of February 12, 2004, kicking off a weeks-long procession of gay nuptials at City Hall, has endorsed San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera in this year's mayoral race.

Lesbian icon Phyllis Lyon married her late partner, Del Martin, in a ceremony that city officials kept secret until after the couple had exchanged vows. The couple had been prominent civil rights activists and LGBT community leaders since the 1950s, having formed the group Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian organization in the U.S.

Their wedding, along with the thousands of other couples who wed during the city's "Winter of Love" seven years ago, was later invalidated by the state Supreme Court. The ruling kicked off a legal challenge Herrera's office brought forward that led to the court's historic 2008 decision to overturn California's anti-gay marriage statutes.

Once again, Lyon and Martin were asked to be the first same-sex couple to marry that summer in San Francisco once the court's ruling allowing the gay nuptials to resume went into effect June 16. The women had been together 55 years at that point; Martin died two months later at the age of 87.

Now Lyon is trying to help elect Herrera to Room 200 in City Hall, where her second marriage took place. Herrera's campaign announced Lyon's backing in a statement released to the Bay Area Reporter this week.

"Dennis Herrera has the leadership and experience to make a real difference in people's lives," stated Lyon.   "I know, because he made a difference in mine. That's why I'm proud to support him for mayor."

Herrera said he was "deeply touched" to have Lyon's support in the race.

"Phyllis and Del, and thousands of San Francisco families like theirs, are abiding testimony to the promise of local government to make a positive difference in people's lives. It has been the honor of my career to share in a small fraction of Phyllis's lifetime of activism for equal rights," stated Herrera. "I will proudly carry that commitment with me if elected mayor."

The news of Lyon's endorsement could help Herrera shore up support among more progressive queer residents as he battles with state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and District 11 Supervisor John Avalos for their votes. In a signal of how divided the city's LGBT community is over whom to back among the nine leading contenders in the mayoral race, neither of the two main LGBT Democratic clubs, Alice B. Toklas and Harvey Milk, have coalesced around one candidate to trigger an early endorsement in the race.

Lyon's decision to back Herrera is also another indication that former District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty, so far the only openly gay candidate among the mayoral front-runners, cannot take the LGBT community's support for granted. While he did receive the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund's nod in the race, his successor in the District 8 seat, Scott Wiener, endorsed Herrera, whom he worked for as a deputy city attorney.

As was evidenced during last week's first mayoral forum, all nine of the leading mayoral candidates are making plays for LGBT votes. [See story, page 8].

Gascón brings D.A. campaign to the Castro

The city's district attorney, George Gascón , will bring his campaign for a full term in the office to the Castro this weekend as he ramps up his election efforts.

Formerly the city's police chief, Gascón switched jobs earlier this year when former Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed him to succeed Kamala Harris , who resigned as D.A. following her election last fall to be the state's attorney general. Both Harris and Newsom have endorsed Gascón's campaign.

His main opponents, so far, are David Onek , the founding executive director of the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice, and Sharmin Bock , an Alameda County assistant district attorney in charge of special operations and policy development.

Onek has lined up a long list of progressive backers, including former lesbian Supervisor Roberta Achtenber g and gay former school board member Mark Sanchez. He has been hammering Gascón over his refusal to not seek the death penalty. While Onek has said he "unequivocally" is against the death penalty, Gascón has not made a similar pledge.

The issue likely will be a major talking point in the race. In a sign of how important it may be, Gascón attempted to clear up his position in a May 1 op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle . He wrote that his experience as a police officer makes him "hesitant to say that I would never consider the death penalty" as D.A. But he also indicated he would support efforts to outlaw the death penalty in California.

"Rather than refuse to enforce our laws, I believe the more appropriate approach is to accept the law and work to change it," added Gascón.

Supporters from the LGBT community, including both Wiener and Dufty, will join Gascón at his 11 a.m. kickoff event Saturday, May 14 at Harvey Milk Plaza. Following brief remarks, Gascón will do a merchant walk through the gayborhood.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings around 10 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reports on queer youth's fight for access to a Castro rec center space.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail mailto:.

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