Online Extra: Political Notes: State Senate candidate Riddle questioned on LGBT stance
by Matthew S. Bajko
A candidate running for a Los Angeles-area state Senate seat is facing questions from progressive groups about her stance on women's and LGBT issues.
Within the last four weeks, both the California National Organization for Women and the East Area Progressive Democrats have raised concerns about retired Pasadena police lieutenant Phlunte Riddle , who is running for the state's 25th Senate District seat that covers a number of cities in Los Angeles County, including Pasadena, Burbank, and Glendale, and a part of San Bernardino County.
Riddle's campaign has hit back hard against the accusations, noting in recent press releases her support from female political leaders and that she supports equal rights and reproductive rights. She has also hired a gay man, Jimmy Whittrock, to be her campaign manager.
"She'll be a strong voice for equality in our LGBT communities and use her more than 30 years of experience as a public safety leader to guide policy and legislation to ensure women and children get the support services they need to succeed," stated Sherri Loveland , president of the National Women's Political Caucus of California, in a September 14 news release announcing the group's endorsement of Riddle in the race.
Questions about Riddle first surfaced in June, after Ron Buckmire, a gay black man who is a professor at Occidental College, highlighted Riddle's ties to several anti-gay Christian universities, such as Harvest School of Ministry in Altadena, in a post he wrote for the website http://www.laprogressive.com.
"Views like these are more aligned with the extreme right's than with our movements for civil rights, whose work remains unfinished," wrote Buckmire. "We need Democrats we can count on as allies and a with (sic) fighting spirit for equality to get this work done."
In response to Buckmire's post, Riddle issued a statement in late June professing her support for a woman's right to choose and LGBT issues.
"I am appalled by this 'guilt by association' attack on me and my beliefs," wrote Riddle. "I never taught at the Harvest School of Ministry and have not attended the Abundant Harvest Christian Center in years. These claims could not be further from the truth as to where I stand on the critical issues of choice and equality."
Riddle added, "I fully support a woman's right to choose and believe politicians shouldn't be making a woman's reproductive health decisions for her. I fully support equality and marriage rights for all."
Yet Riddle has continued to be scrutinized for her stances and ties to the Christian schools. Late last month, the state NOW chapter claimed Riddle is "not reliable on abortion rights" and questioned her position on LGBT issues.
The group's August 26 statement, issued by its president, Jerilyn Stapleton, said it had "deep concern" about Riddle's "record of complicity in anti-abortion and anti-LGBT policies."
It pointed to her being an instructor in sociology at the "anti-abortion, anti-LGBT Biola University," and claimed that Riddle "signed onto a code of conduct that bars abortion and 'human intervention in any form after conception' and allows punishment of faculty and staff for non-compliance with this strict ban."
CA NOW also criticized Riddle for accepting, in June, $150 campaign contributions from both Anthony and Micheline McFarland, which the group described as "a pair of anti-gay, anti-abortion ministers of Abundant Harvest Church and Harvest School of Ministry."
And it questioned why her campaign financial disclosure form filed with the secretary of state does not list the McFarland's employer and occupations. Instead those boxes state "information requested."
"Was that deliberate? Did she want anyone searching for 'Abundant Harvest' or 'Harvest School of Ministry' to come up empty? Did she intentionally leave out information to distance herself from them?" asked CA NOW.
"Only when we hold candidates accountable to the highest standards of action and honesty for reproductive health and LGBT rights do we make progress in California," stated Stapleton, who did not respond to requests for comment by deadline. "Only by being vigilant and vocal do we gain the victories that make real our commitments to health, safety, and equality and keep our state at the forefront of social justice."
In its letter to Riddle, the East Area Progressive Democrats focused on her relationship with Biola University, which touts itself as "a private Christian university" located in La Mirada. According to Biola's doctrinal statement, posted on its website, it abhors "the destruction of innocent human life through abortion on demand, infanticide or euthanasia as unbiblical and contrary to God's will. Life is precious and in God's hands."
It also states that "biblical marriage consists only of a faithful, heterosexual union between one genetic male and one genetic female, and biblical marriage is the only legitimate and acceptable context for a sexual relationship."
The Democratic club's letter, dated September 15 and signed by its vice president, Renee Nahum, pointed to a report on the www.laprogressive.com website about Riddle's connections to Biola and its anti-gay policies.
"You taught at Biola University from 2103 to 2015, even as its active repression of LGBT students became a focus of campus debate," wrote Nahum. "Yet you did not advance that debate or recognition of the dignity and non-discrimination goals of LGBT students and allies in any way. And you have refused to criticize the anti-abortion, anti-LGBT policies of Biola, which it continues to enforce, despite evidence of its harm to students and its learning environment."
Pointing to the actions of elected Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who has cited her religious beliefs in refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Nahum wrote that Democrats have a duty to ask hard questions of political candidates.
"Democratic voters need to ask questions of would-be office-holders, especially those like you running for the first time," wrote Nahum. "Candidates who say anything or regularly change their story mock the standard for public integrity."
In an interview Monday with the Bay Area Reporter , Riddle said she has been surprised to come under attack so quickly in the race and refuted the accusations her critics have lodged against her.
"I don't even know where some of these things came from," said Riddle, 56, who has three grown sons with her husband. "But I understand this is how politics is done sometimes to undermine a candidate."
Asked if she would return the McFarlands' donations, Riddle said her campaign already had done so. She added that the couple did not include their employer and occupation information when they submitted their checks to the campaign, thus resulting in those boxes being left blank on her financial disclosure form.
As for why her name was listed as an instructor at their school, Riddle said she had agreed to teach an English course there but only if the school was certified. It failed to be granted the certification, so she never taught there, but the McFarlands' included her name amongst the faculty by mistake, said Riddle.
During her time teaching several criminal justice classes at Biola, Riddle said she did sign the employment agreement the school required of teachers. But she pointed out that her syllabus included a non-discrimination clause that included sexual orientation and that she never witnessed any student being mistreated based on their sexual orientation or beliefs about abortion.
"The syllabus I used states everyone shall be treated with respect and dignity, and there will be no mistreatment of people for different sexual orientations, faith, or race," said Riddle. "It said there will be zero tolerance for discrimination. That is what I taught."
In terms of her stance on marriage equality, Riddle said she voted against Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure defining marriage in the state as between a man and a woman. She recounted how seeing the suffering an early partner of hers on the police force and his partner went through in the 1990s as he battled HIV informed her feelings on the issue.
"Equality for all is what's right, and I stand behind it," said Riddle, adding that in the case of public employees such as Davis, "She is a public servant, and as a public servant, she doesn't have the right to bring her own beliefs into that job."
As for the questions regarding her stance on abortion, Riddle said she has long backed a woman's right to choose. She noted that when she served as interim executive director of the Pasadena chapter of the YWCA, she worked with Planned Parenthood to support its services and continues to do so.
She would not have won the endorsement of the National Women's Political Caucus of California, argued Riddle, if she opposed abortion rights or marriage equality.
"There is no way those ladies would have endorsed me, and they gave me a very strong endorsement. In the interview, they asked about LGBT issues and marriage equality," said Riddle. "Without any doubt I totally believe in this. This didn't happen yesterday. I agree with the California Democratic Party platform."
Despite the questions about her policy stances, Riddle has lined up support from several women's groups and female politicians, including state Senators Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Carol Liu (D-La Canada Flintridge), who will be termed out of the 25th District seat next fall.
The California Democratic Legislative Women's Caucus, which Jackson chairs, has endorsed Riddle. In an August 31 announcement of its decision, the caucus noted it had asked Riddle "specifically and in detail" where she stood on reproductive rights and choice.
"In the interview process, I was impressed by Phlunte Riddle's strong and unequivocal commitment to reproductive choice, and her belief that these deeply personal decisions should be made freely and without interference," said Liu. "California has always been a leader in advancing women's reproductive rights, and she is the best choice for continuing this legacy."
Also running for the 25th Senate District seat are Katherine Aguilar Perez-Estolano, a lesbian who serves on the California High Speed Rail Authority; Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale); and former Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge).
Republican Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich is also seeking the seat. The top two vote getters in next June's primary will face off against each other in the November 2016 election.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.