Political Notebook: Vallejo pastor, LGBT residents clash overcity council race
by Matthew S. Bajko
The decision by a pastor in Vallejo with a checkered past when it comes to LGBT issues to this year seek a city council seat has once again thrust the Bay Area city into the headlines.
The bayside enclave in southern Solano County has long attracted LGBT people seeking cheaper housing, as the Bay Area Reporter noted in a 2008 Pride issue article. Several gay men have served on its city council, and former councilman Gary Cloutier was briefly declared the winner of Vallejo's 2007 mayoral race before a recount seven days later pushed him out of office.
Two years later the winner of that contest, Mayor Osby Davis, was forced to apologize for an interview with a New York Times columnist where he said gay people were "committing sin." He insisted his comments were taken out of context, and despite his apology, faced calls for the council to censure him.
This time it is pastor Anthony Summers 's candidacy that has alarmed a number of the city's LGBT residents, who have been vocally campaigning against him. They have also criticized local Democratic Party officials for endorsing Summers when he opposes abortion, a main position of the state party platform.
"I am hopeful he will be defeated. But it terrifies me to think we could have an anti-choice, anti-gay, and pro-bullying councilman" said Stephen Hallett, 26, a gay man who is a Vallejo native.
As the opposition against him has heated up ahead of the Tuesday, November 5 election, Summers has sought to address his critics' claims and refute his being characterized as anti-gay or homophobic, noting he has a gay niece who he fully loves and supports.
In posts to his campaign website, emails to those opposing him, and several media interviews, Summers has insisted that as "a black man in America" he "personally" understands what it means to be discriminated against and opposes all forms of discrimination.
"Tony absolutely and unequivocally condemns discrimination of any person, in any form, for any reason," states a message on his campaign site.
His response has not mollified those opposing Summers in the eight-person race who are concerned that his actions will not match his words should he win one of the three four-year council terms up for grabs this year.
"This seems like a conversion on the way to the polls in the election. It is not what he has said, it is what he has done," said David Crumine, 52, who moved to Vallejo seven years ago with his husband, Joey Lake .
Crumine is a co-founder of an ad hoc committee looking at forming a new LGBT Democratic Club in Solano County. In recent weeks the group has unsuccessfully pushed to see the Solano County Democratic Central Committee and state Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla (D-Concord), who represents Vallejo, rescind their endorsements of Summers.
"This is really about whether religious values, which have their place, should be made central to policy-making decisions," said Crumine, who has tangled with Summers politically over the years. "That is really our point."
In a recent interview with the B.A.R. , Summers, 54, a married father of three daughters, insisted he has no agenda to pursue anti-gay laws should he win a council seat.
"That is ludicrous," said Summers, pointing out that he has publicly called for the city to revive its Human Rights Commission to deal with complaints about LGBT issues and has endorsed LGBT sensitivity training for the city's police department.
His platform is focused on jobs, economic development, and public safety.
"I want to change the dynamic of Vallejo," said Summers, who works for a company that provides job training to people who are incarcerated. "We have some wonderful things happening in our city. We need to lift that up."
Asked about his position on same-sex marriage, Summers told the B.A.R. that he voted against Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage California voters passed in 2008. He acknowledged that during the campaign five years he ago he was part of a local faith organization that took a public stand in support of Prop 8.
"There is such a thing as guilt by association," he said.
In an email to Hallett regarding his position on the issue, Summers wrote, "As it relates to marriage equity, my position is still the same. Although I do not personally agree with it, I do not and will not discriminate against anybody!! People have the right to marry whomever they desire."
Another issue Summers has been addressing is his opposition to the Vallejo City Unified School District's recent introduction of anti-bullying videos. Last year, a number of students and parents accused the school district of not addressing the issue after several incidents attracted widespread media attention.
Summers told the B.A.R. what he opposes is showing elementary school children videos that "I consider sex education, which was way too soon," and not giving parents the ability to opt out their children from the classes.
"I would still not want any public school teachers teaching my children about sex education without my consent," he said. "That was the issue to me."
Summers has also sought to distance himself from Ed Silvoso, the founder of Harvest Evangelism who has worked with Julius Oyet, a leading promoter of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill, according to the group Truth Wins Out. Summers appears in several videos posted online created by Silvoso's California-based ministry that claim "prayer evangelism" helped Vallejo come out of its municipal bankruptcy.
In an open letter he sent to supporters, Summers wrote it is "absurd" to link his views to those of Silvoso and that their relationship "is remote."
He added, "I do not believe nor does Ed Silvoso believe in the killing of gay people – period! I've been in pastoral ministry and caring compassionately for people for 25 years. If that had been Ed's position I would have disassociated myself from him a long time ago."
There are those within Vallejo's LGBT community who support Summers, the most prominent being Jonathan Gordon, a gay man who is president of United Democrats of Southern Solano County. After moving to Vallejo in 2004, Gordon, 62, came out publicly two years ago at a central committee meeting.
His endorsement of Summers came after spending numerous hours speaking to the candidate about a host of issues, including how to improve Vallejo's score on the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index. In 2012 the city scored a 52 out of a possible 100 points, earning deductions for such things as failing to have a local LGBT non-discrimination ordinance, no LGBT police liaison, or any elected out officials.
Based on those conversations Gordon said he felt confident in backing Summers for a council seat. Though he allowed he had "failed" the city's LGBT community by not doing a better job of explaining his decision.
Gordon said he believes Summers when he says he will not promote an anti-gay agenda at City Hall. And after visiting Summers's church one recent Sunday, Gordon added he did not witness homophobic preaching but saw a theology of personal empowerment.
"Simply by my endorsing Anthony a whole new world opened up to me of new people who hadn't been talking to me or I hadn't opened them up to me. It dawned on me how segregated we were by this meme and prejudice and stupid thinking," said Gordon, referring to the attacks against Summers. "It has been a battle zone here over the last eight years where the gay community had not talked to the black community. Somebody had to break the ice."
Bonilla also told the B.A.R. in a phone interview that she "spent hours asking questions and vetting" Summers after the accusations against him emerged following her and the local Democratic Party's endorsement of him. Her endorsement of Summers came as part of a slate of candidates backed by local unions and other party leaders.
"If I had felt the things being said about him were true, I would not continue to endorse him. I feel he has answered those opinions and answered it clearly," she said. "I felt what I was endorsing was really an effort to strengthen the city of Vallejo and bring unity to the city."
Bonilla added that, "It is important to ask difficult questions of a candidate and put a candidate on record. One of the takeaways from the process is Mr. Summers has now spoken on the record to answer the questions about his positions."
If nothing else, the council race appears to have energized both gay and straight Vallejo residents upset with the status quo politically who are looking to make changes.
Craig Scott, a gay man in his 50s who moved to town in July from San Francisco. "There are a lot of people upset but no political channel to join and get these issues addressed. It indicates to me that, yes, we need a Stonewall type club. We need something to counterbalance these Christian fundamentalists."
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 gay Philly state Rep. Brian Sims' recent fundraising swing through California.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.