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Political Notebook: Lesbian Aging Expert Builds Support for CA State Senate Race

by Matthew S. Bajko

State Senate candidate Joy Silver
State Senate candidate Joy Silver  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

One of the best chances this year to elect a new member to the California Legislative LGBT Caucus is in the gay retirement and vacation mecca of Palm Springs. It is where lesbian aging expert Joy Silver is running a strong campaign to unseat state Senator Jeff Stone (R-La Quinta) from his 28th District seat.

The first-time candidate has raised a significant amount of money compared to Stone, considered one of the most anti-LGBT members of the state Legislature. And she has also garnered widespread support from Democratic leaders and officials as well as LGBT and community groups.

Among her endorsers are former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressmen Dr. Raul Ruiz (D-La Quinta) and Mark Takano (D-Riverside), who is gay. The gay mayor of Palm Springs and three of the four LGBT members on the City Council are backing her, with the fourth expected to as well.

Gay state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), lesbian Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), and gay former state lawmaker Mark Leno of San Francisco have all endorsed Silver. As have the statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality California, the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and the Lesbian Political Action Committee.

In a recent phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Silver said having the Victory Fund's support, in particular, "is really an incredible thing" because of its years of work helping to elect LGBT people to office across the U.S. in order "to make sure our LGBTQ voices are heard."

"I am vey proud to have their endorsement," added Silver.

One other Democrat is in the race, registered nurse and author Anna Nevenic, who lost a previous bid for the Senate seat. But it is Silver, 62, who has drawn the most support and is seen as having the best shot at flipping the district from red to blue.

"I think Joy is running a terrific campaign, raising money, talking about the issues, and is positioned to take the seat from one of the most right-wing, anti-LGBT legislators in the state," said gay Palm Springs City Councilman Geoff Kors, a past EQCA executive director. "I think Joy is exceedingly smart, a terrific organizer, and has a history of working with people who want to see change."

Until last week, when he qualified for the ballot, it was unclear if Stone would seek re-election this year. His campaign site hasn't been updated since he posted a victory message four years ago.

Stone, 61, who earned a 20 percent score on EQCA's 2017 Legislative Scorecard, represents a large swath of Riverside County. A former county supervisor, Stone was first elected to the Legislature's upper chamber in 2014.

A strong supporter of President Donald Trump, he is facing the same headwinds as other southern California Republicans this year who are running up against significant Democratic interest in the midterm elections. Silver is aiming to tap into that energy across the Senate district, but especially in Palm Springs following the historic election in November of the state's first transgender city council person.

Should Silver be elected, she would be the first out state legislator from the Coachella Valley.

"If you look at this Senate seat, it is a close registration between Democrats and Republicans," said Kors, "and Joy is the first candidate in recent memory who is a Democrat and has really pulled together all the elements needed for a successful campaign."

But Jonathan Ingram, chairman of the Riverside County Republican Party, told the B.A.R. he doubts Stone will lose his seat. He noted that the district still tilts Republican and that Stone remains popular throughout it.

"I don't think Joy is going to have the opportunity to serve in this Senate district seat. She is more than welcome to run, but Jeff Stone is an institution in Riverside County," he said. "He has been a fantastic representative."

In 2008 Silver took part in EQCA's "Let California Ring" campaign against Proposition 8, the ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage but was later overturned by the federal courts. A consultant on LGBT aging issues, Silver attended President Barack Obama's 2015 LGBT Elder Housing Summit.

She previously lived in New Mexico where she started a foundation that grants funds to aging LGBTQ people facing financial emergencies. She also chaired Equality New Mexico's health care initiatives and served on various boards serving LGBTQ seniors. She and her partner, Atma Wiseman, live in Palm Springs.

During an interview while in San Francisco in January for a fundraiser, Silver told the B.A.R. she was inspired to seek public office after seeing Hillary Clinton, whose presidential campaign she had worked on, lose to Trump in 2016. Her decision was cemented when she took part in the Women's March in Washington, D.C. last year the day after Trump took his oath of office.

She said Stone's Senate District "is much more progressive than it is thought to be," and due to her candidacy, "Democrats have a reason to vote. It will all be in the turnout."

Her campaign is focused on issues of importance throughout the state, from housing to health care, as well as more local concerns, such as the drying out Salton Sea. She supports going to a universal health care system in the state.

"In California, we want to show the rest of the U.S. it can be done," said Silver.

She would bring her experience in aging issues to the Senate and push to ensure LGBT older adults have the care they need as they enter retirement. She is also concerned about ensuring medical professionals have the proper training on the needs of transgender patients.

"I have been an advocate and an activist my whole life," said Silver, who grew up in Philadelphia the daughter of a police officer.

To learn more about Silver and her platform, visit her aptly named campaign website

Opponent Files Against Gay Alameda Ed Board Member

The race is on in June for the seat held by the lone LGBT member on the Alameda County Board of Education.

After not facing an opponent four years ago, trustee Joaquin J. Rivera is being challenged this year by scientist and entrepreneur Abdur Sikder.

Rivera, who secured an early endorsement from the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club, is one of the highest-ranking non-judicial LGBT elected officials in the East Bay. He first ran in 2010 for the education board's Area 1 seat, which includes the cities of Albany, Berkeley, and Emeryville, as well as the Oakland neighborhoods of North Oakland, Temescal, Rockridge, and the northern portion of West Oakland.

Rivera was the first, and so far only, out LGBT person to serve on the oversight body. A chemistry professor since 1990 at Skyline College, located south of San Francisco in the hills of San Bruno and part of the San Mateo County Community College District, Rivera lives in Berkeley with his husband, Joel Cohen. The couple does not have children.

"I'm not concerned. Now I'll have to campaign and raise money. I'm planning to campaign hard to win this race," Rivera, 52, told the B.A.R. about having an opponent this year.

Sikder, 50, a father of three aged 21, 19, and 6, is from Bangladesh and lives in Berkeley. Having earned a Ph.D. in computer science, he founded a computer software company based in the East Bay city.

He lost a bid two years ago for a seat on the Berkeley school board. In an emailed response to the B.A.R., Sikder wrote that he is running for the county board seat because he believes voters deserve a choice.

"I personally think, it is a good idea to give a chance to a new person to have a fresh perspective about the board of education's operations," he wrote. "Anybody for a public office for long time get too comfortable, they do not need to think differently, so best ideas never come."

Supervisor Malia Cohen is running for the state Board of Equalization. Photo: Cohen campaign  

Alice Backs Leno for SF Mayor

After weeks of wrangling over who the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club would support in the special mayoral election on the June primary ballot, San Francisco's more moderate LGBT political group has given gay former lawmaker Mark Leno its #1 ranked choice endorsement and a #2 ranked choice endorsement to Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who briefly served as acting mayor upon the death in December of the late mayor Ed Lee.

The decision blocked attempts by Breed's backers in the club to have Alice do an unranked dual endorsement of her and Leno, who has long had close ties to the group. None of the other mayoral candidates were able to secure the club's #3 ranked choice endorsement.

"Given my 35-year history with Alice, and its historic role as the first and oldest LGBT Democratic Club in the country, I am very pleased to have the support of the club," Leno told the B.A.R.

In a surprise result, neither Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, nor any other gubernatorial candidate in the race to succeed termed out Governor Jerry Brown secured an endorsement from the Alice club. The club also did not endorse in the attorney general race where Xavier Becerra, whom Brown appointed to the position, is fighting off a challenge from fellow Democrat Dave Jones, the state's insurance commissioner who is termed out this year.

Alice did endorse former Obama ambassador Eleni Kounalakis in the lieutenant governor race to succeed Newsom.

In two races with out candidates, Alice endorsed gay state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) to succeed Jones and become the first LGBT person elected to statewide office, but it did not endorse lesbian state Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) for the District 2 seat on the state Board of Equalization. Instead, Alice endorsed San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen, who is termed out of her District 10 seat this year.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the election plans of three gay GOPers in CA.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail


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