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Political Notebook: SF mayoral candidates pledge to appoint LGBT commissioners

by Matthew S. Bajko

Former Port Commissioner Leslie Katz. Photo: Courtesy Port of San Francisco
Former Port Commissioner Leslie Katz. Photo: Courtesy Port of San Francisco  

Ensuring that city boards and commissions in San Francisco include members from the LGBT community has been an issue for years.

The oversight panels not only influence city policies, development decisions, and the management of departments and agencies, but also can serve as a springboard for running for public office. As the LGBT community has witnessed a decline in the number of out elected officials in the city, seeing that there are LGBT commissioners and board members has taken on greater importance.

The issue flared anew last month with Mayor Mark Farrell's decision not to reappoint lesbian Port Commissioner Leslie Katz, the lone LGBT member of the panel, to another four-year term. Despite protests from a handful of LGBT leaders, as well as the Bay Area Reporter, about the move, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to name Gail Gilman to Katz' Seat 5 on the port commission.

CEO of the nonprofit Community Housing Partnership, Gilman has been serving on the city's Building Inspection Commission. A number of LGBT officials spoke in favor of her port seat nomination before the board's rules committee last week, which forwarded her name to the full board without taking a stance.

Sounding resigned to Katz being replaced, and not calling on his colleagues to outright reject Gilman for the seat, gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy nonetheless did address at the rules hearing why LGBT representation on city oversight bodies is important.

"For us, as a community, there is always this assumption we've made it. Anyone who knows the history of the LGBT community knows that whenever we make gains we lose those gains," said Sheehy, who voted with his colleagues this week to approve Gilman's nomination. "On our climb up the ladder, we have fallen back many times."

He pointed out that, when Katz served as a city supervisor in the 1990s, she was one of three out members of the board. Today, Sheehy is the lone LGBT supervisor.

"So, we are very sensitive to our representation and to our ability to participate in fully in this city's life. It is important to us as a community," said Sheehy. "To see that moving backwards is just very, very difficult for us."

Most of the city's commissions now have at least one LGBT person serving on it. According to a report looking at the 2017 makeup of the dozens of such oversight panels, 17 percent of the members identified as LGBT. For comparison, the report estimated the overall LGBT population of the city as 5 to 7 percent.

The members of some advisory bodies, like the Municipal Transportation Agency board, are solely appointed by the mayor, while the supervisors make appointments to certain bodies, like the planning and entertainment commissions. But among the more high-profile panels, LGBT representation is lacking and could decrease in the coming months.

Gay Police Commissioner Julius Turman is resigning from his board appointed seat this Friday, May 4, leaving one out member of the body, Petra DeJesus. And a campaign is already underway to see the supervisors reappoint gay Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards, the lone LGBT person on the powerful body, as his seat is up for renewal July 1.

All four of the leading mayoral candidates in the special election on the June 5 primary ballot told the B.A.R. that they would take into account LGBT representation on advisory bodies when making appointments to city commissions and boards.

Gay former supervisor and state lawmaker Mark Leno said he would create "a committee for commissions," similar to ones formed by past mayors George Moscone and Art Agnos, that would be composed of community leaders who would make recommendations to the mayor on who should be appointed to commission and board seats.

"I will commit to making sure our commissions reflect the face of San Francisco. So I will be there to support my community, the LGBT community, but I will be there to support the Chinese-American community because they're under-represented," said Leno. "I will be there for the Latino community, the African-American community. The commissions should reflect the face of San Francisco."

Board President London Breed, who represents District 5, told the B.A.R. she would commit to making sure every city commission has at least one LGBT person on it.

"I just think that it is important there is LGBT representation, there is diverse representation on our boards and commissions," she said.

District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim also told the B.A.R. that she "would certainly endeavor to appoint" one LGBT person to each of the city's boards and commissions. She added that ensuring LGBT representation would not just be a priority at the commission level, but also among her department heads and high level staff she names as mayor.

"I think that that is incredibly important to do," Kim said. "Diversity is something that is going to be important to me in terms of women, people of color, immigrant status, and of course LGBTQ."

Former supervisor Angela Alioto, who now has her own law practice, also committed to making sure every city oversight panel had an LGBT person serving on it. As for the lack of LGBT people serving on the Board of Supervisors itself, Alioto said she would push to change how supervisors are elected.

Instead of having all 11 supervisors voted by district, Alioto said she has long advocated for adopting what she called "the Boston split," where six of the supervisors are elected citywide and five are elected by district.

"I absolutely think it's absurd that people get three and four thousand votes and potentially are the mayor of San Francisco," said Alioto, referring to how the president of the board automatically becomes acting mayor should a mayor die in office, as is what happened when Breed moved into Room 200 at City Hall upon the sudden death December 12 of the late mayor Ed Lee. "That's ridiculous. I think you have to run citywide. I think district elections have been destructive. You want something done in a place, you have to go speak to that one supervisor."

Clarification
Due to inaccurate information from her campaign, District 6 supervisor candidate Sonja Trauss' connection to the city's sex-positive and polyamorous communities was incorrect in last week's column. While she doesn't use the term polyamorous to refer to herself, Trauss is in a non-monogamous marriage. Wednesday night she co-hosted a meeting with leaders of those communities, as well as the leather community, to create a legislative agenda to address their needs.

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 an LGBT Democratic club's endorsement in an East Bay Assembly race.
Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes .
Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com.

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