Online Extra: Political Notes: Unclear if Chiu could join
LGBT caucus as assemblyman
by Matthew S. Bajko
At a fundraiser with LGBT leaders last week, San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu expressed his desire "to be a part of " the California Legislative LGBT Caucus if elected to the state Assembly next fall.
Should the straight lawmaker win the race, however, there is no guarantee he will be allowed to join the legislative group. Since its inception more than a decade ago it has only had gay and lesbian lawmakers as members.
"No, he could not join," gay Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park), the current LGBT caucus chair, initially told the Bay Area Reporter when contacted Friday. Asked why, Gordon responded, "I have no clue, that is the way it has been."
Gordon, who is backing gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos in the race, noted that all five of the Legislature's minority caucuses – there are also ones for women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian and Pacific Islanders – restrict their memberships to fit the demographic makeup of the groups.
Asked if Chiu could petition the LGBT caucus members to join, Gordon replied that there is "no formal rule around this. The caucus would have to make that decision."
Chiu's comments about wanting to join the LGBT caucus in Sacramento came at his first campaign fundraiser last week, which was hosted by LGBT leaders. At the event Chiu said that he had called Gordon shortly after entering the race and told him that he wanted to be a part of the legislative group.
"I want to be a member of the Assembly who is carrying forward the needs of the LGBT community," said Chiu, 43, who late last month married his longtime girlfriend, Candace Chen , at a private wedding ceremony.
Noting that as far back as the 1970s straight lawmakers from San Francisco, such as former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown , led the fight for LGBT rights in the state Legislature, Chiu pledged to continue that tradition.
"I want to follow the lead of members from San Francisco who were gay or straight to pass legislation" addressing the needs of the LGBT community, said Chiu.
Asked about his phone call with Chiu in early September after he announced his Assembly bid, Gordon told the B.A.R. that the supervisor "did not specifically ask me if he could join the caucus." He recalled Chiu saying he wanted to work closely with it, "and I said I appreciate that and told him if you are elected I will work with you."
On Friday Chiu told the B.A.R. that when he spoke to Gordon he mentioned that he wanted to work closely with the LGBT caucus.
"What I told him is if I was elected I hope to be very close with the caucus and work with the caucus and carry legislation for the LGBT community," said Chiu.
He added that his desire is "to be as close an ally as a straight assemblyman can be with the LGBT caucus."
Pressed on if he would petition the caucus to become a full-fledged member, Chiu was noncommittal on seeking formal membership to the group.
"I completely respect the rules of the caucus. My only point Wednesday night was I want to be as supportive and helpful an ally as I can be if elected," said Chiu. "If the caucus wants to work with me and work together, I would be open to do that. I am not looking to rewrite any rules. It would be up to the caucus to determine how someone like me could work together with it."
While the issue of a caucus membership may appear trivial, it is reflective of how central LGBT issues will be in the race for the Assembly seat next year.
Chiu and Campos, 42, are both running for the city's 17th Assembly District seat, currently held by gay Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). The two Democrats and board colleagues, so far, are the only declared candidates in the race and are widely expected to survive the June primary and face off against each other in the November 2014 general election.
The Assembly seat covers the city's eastern neighborhoods and has been held by an out lawmaker since the election of Carole Migden back in 1996. Ammiano is backing Campos to be his successor, as are many LGBT leaders eager to maintain out elected leadership from the district. Latino leaders have also expressed excitement at seeing the first Latino assembly member elected from San Francisco.
The candidates' sexual orientations, along with their ethnicities, are one of the key differences between them, as their stances on major issues at City Hall are often similar. And for many voters, it may be what helps them determine for whom to vote.
To Chiu's gay supporters, the determining factor in the race has more to do with leadership style than personal traits.
"Being a gay Asian, I think we have two fantastic candidates in the race," said Jack Song, 30, who with his fiance, Gregory Flores , hosted the fundraiser at their Western Addition apartment. "In Sacramento there is a need for practical, reasonable leaders who are able to listen to both sides of an issue to make a good policy decision."
Stressing that his endorsing Chiu is not a vote against Campos, Song added, "I know the rhetoric in this race is gay versus Asian. For me it comes down to who is the pragmatic policy-maker."
Julian Chang, 52, who is gay and a longtime LGBT community leader, attended the Chiu fundraiser but told the B.A.R. he has yet to endorse either candidate. He expects too later in the race, and as a prospective adoptive dad, his decision will likely come down to the candidate with the more family-friendly platform.
"We have the luxury of two fantastic candidates. Each thinks of themselves as an American first and foremost and will represent all of us," said Chang. "They are not that far apart on many key issues. I think San Francisco leads the nation and I am happy one of them will lead California."
Addressing why LGBT voters should support him over Campos has been a key talking point for Chiu since he announced his Assembly bid in September.
"How does someone like me help to represent our LGBT community?" Chiu himself posited at the start of his comments during the October 30 fundraiser.
Growing up in Boston in the 1970s and 1980s Chiu recalled the two derogatory comments he heard most often were "chink" and "faggot." The discrimination he witnessed influenced his decision to enroll in law school at Harvard.
Later in life, after working on Capitol Hill and "seeing white men use religion to defend hate" toward LGBT people, Chiu decided to move to San Francisco "to be part of this magical city."
When the B.A.R. in September asked him about the consistent rumors during his supervisorial campaigns that he is gay, Chiu said he was a little taken aback because he wasn't expecting the question. But the more he thought about, he said, it is a question he hopes others will ask of him as a state lawmaker.
"As I thought about it a little bit more, in a few short years I hope it is question Californians and more San Franciscans will be asking because of the work I will be doing," said Chiu. "I want to be your straight ally."
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or (415) 359-2632 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.