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Lt. gov candidates gain LGBT support

by Matthew S. Bajko

Several candidates running in 2018 to become California's next lieutenant governor picked up key LGBT endorsements in recent weeks ahead of the June primary, where the top two vote-getters will advance to the general election in November.

None of the candidates who have pulled papers for the race are from the LGBT community, leaving endorsements from out elected and community leaders as well as LGBT political clubs and organizations split among three Democrats and one independent candidate running to be the state's second-in-command. The incumbent, former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, is termed out of office in early 2019 and running next year to become the state's next governor.

In an exclusive interview with the Bay Area Reporter, gay former San Francisco supervisor Bevan Dufty, who now serves on the board overseeing the regional BART transit agency, revealed he had decided to support Oakland attorney Jeff Bleich, who served as former President Barack Obama's ambassador to Australia. The two have known one another for years and were early backers of Obama's 2008 campaign for the White House.

"He has expressed his values through his legal career and they are very much in line with mine. Jeff is a staunch LGBT advocate," said Dufty. "I think he has the experience professionally to be a tremendous asset as lieutenant governor."

As he recounts in a video posted to his campaign website, Bleich provided pro bono counsel to gay Navy Lieutenant Commander Paul Thomasson in his legal fight against the military's former de facto ban on out LGBT service members known as "Don't Ask Don't Tell." Although they lost the case in the courts, it brought renewed scrutiny of the homophobic policy adopted by former President Bill Clinton.

"A lot of my friends said this was President Clinton's initiative, our party's got to fall in line. When my party is wrong, I will stand up and say that," Bleich says in the video.

During his time in Australia, Bleich was a vocal supporter of seeing the country adopt marriage equality, which it did this month after years of debate. It was an issue he had worked on in the U.S., providing support to the San Francisco city attorney's office on its cases fighting to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples in California.

"I am thrilled," he told the B.A.R., in a recent phone interview, about same-sex couples being able to marry in Australia.

Bleich, 56, who has three children with his wife, Becky, said the results of last year's election prompted him to run for public office for the first time.

"My two takeaways were first nothing good will come out from Washington, D.C. and California was going to have to lead, and the second one was we needed to step in to positions that may be under-appreciated in California and move them in new directions to accomplish our goals," said Bleich, a partner in the Dentons law firm.

"The lieutenant governor role is an ideal role for the kinds of challenges we face today. It is not balled up in day-to-day politics; you can choose your issues and drive change through the important boards and commissions you serve on, as well as using the bully pulpit that comes with being in office."

Other LGBT leaders who have endorsed Bleich include gay attorney and longtime marriage equality advocate Evan Wolfson; gay Obama administration official John Berry, who also served as ambassador to Australia; and lesbian former San Francisco Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg, who served with Bleich on the California State University Board of Trustees in the aughts.

"You can drive policy at UC and CSU and make sure the campuses comply with anti-discrimination laws," Bleich said in terms of what he would do on LGBT issues if elected, as the lieutenant governor sits on the boards overseeing both the University of California and California State University systems. "You can also foster an environment in which LGBTQ communities and interests are respected and welcomed and fully integrated into the school environment."

Other candidates
Equality California, the statewide LGBT rights advocacy organization, last week endorsed another former U.S. ambassador in the race, Eleni Kounalakis, who was sent to Hungary by Obama. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, Markos, and their two sons.

"Kounalakis has been a longstanding ally and activist, advancing civil rights and social justice for the LGBTQ community," stated EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur. "She was actively opposed to Proposition 8, and as ambassador to Hungary, made fighting for LGBTQ civil rights and protecting vulnerable LGBTQ people in Hungary one of her key priorities. We are confident she will continue to advocate to enhance the rights of LGBTQ Californians as our next lieutenant governor."

Kounalakis, 51, was the first U.S. ambassador to Hungary to march in the Budapest Pride parade and she used the embassy's cultural funds to support Budapest Pride Week. She has also pledged to ensure LGBTQ students at state-run colleges and universities are protected and have the services they need.

In addition, Kounalakis would convene a blue ribbon panel on the status of LGBTQ rights in California, with special attention to LGBTQ youth, transgender individuals, and LGBTQ members of immigrant communities and communities of color should she be elected the state's first female lieutenant governor.

"California must lead the way into the future - and that means doubling down on our California values. This starts with never tolerating discrimination and always working to ensure equal rights for all," stated Kounalakis. "As lieutenant governor, I look forward to working alongside organizations like Equality California to amplify more voices so that government can help to create a world that is prosperous, safe, and fully equal for everyone in the LGBTQ community."

Among the LGBT leaders who have endorsed her in the race are gay former state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco); gay former San Francisco Supervisor David Campos; lesbian former San Francisco supervisor Leslie Katz; and Michael Pappas, a gay man who is executive director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council.

Gay El Cerrito City Councilman Gabriel Quinto, who this week was elected as the East Bay city's mayor, has dual endorsed Bleich and Kounalakis in the race.

Another Democrat in the race, Dr. Ed Hernandez, 60, a state senator, former Assemblyman, and optometrist from the San Gabriel Valley, also has received significant backing from LGBT leaders, including lesbian state Senate Pro Tempore-elect Toni Atkins (D-San Diego); gay state Senators Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles); lesbian state Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton); lesbian Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton); gay Assemblymen Evan Low (D-Campbell) and Todd Gloria (D-San Diego); and gay former Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles).

"Senator Dr. Ed Hernandez has spent his time in public office fighting for those without a voice, for patients, working people, immigrant communities and all Californians," stated Eggman. "He's been a forward-thinking leader on a range of issues, taking on Big Pharma to address skyrocketing prescription drugs, taking on Big Tobacco to raise the smoking age to 21, advancing healthcare for all, creating jobs and so much more. I'm confident he'll make a strong Lt. governor for California and I'm proud to endorse him."

Former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, 65, a former Green Party member who is running as an independent, also has gained LGBT support for her lieutenant governor bid. Lesbian Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, gay Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington, and gay former San Francisco supervisor and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano have all endorsed her in the race.

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