Political Notebook: Nonbinary supe aide a first at SF City Hall
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In taking a job this month in the office of gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, Koledon Lambright is believed to be the first nonbinary legislative aide hired by a supervisor at San Francisco's City Hall.
Lambright, who uses female pronouns, is also believed to be only the second transgender person to be hired for such a position. Several transgender leaders and former gay supervisors all told the Bay Area Reporter that the only other transgender person they could recall who worked as an aide to a supervisor is local union leader Gabriel Haaland.
Former supervisor Jose Medina hired him in 1996, the same year he publicly came out as a transgender man. Known then as Robert, Haaland worked for Medina until 1999.
"My impression at the time was I was the first transgender person hired as a legislative aide. I can't think of anyone since," said Haaland, ?the political coordinator for ?Service Employees International Union Local 1021.
Lambright, 26, had been employed as a trans employment program associate at the LGBT Community Center since June. She had volunteered as a receptionist in Sheehy's office after the late mayor Ed Lee appointed him last January to the vacant seat representing the gay Castro district as well as Noe Valley, Diamond Heights and Glen Park.
"I loved doing that and meeting people," said Lambright, who would also accompany Sheehy to various community events. "District 8 is amazing."
When Sheehy posted he was looking to hire two new aides, Lambright said she "jumped at the chance to apply. I loved working at the center but even they were for it. We need more queer people at City Hall."
Sheehy told the B.A.R. he was impressed with Lambright's willingness to donate her time not only to his office but other community organizations. It was what he did after he first moved to the city and sought to become more involved socially and politically.
"When Koledon came in and worked for me last year, I was totally impressed and I was so grateful, frankly, she agreed to take the job. I feel very lucky," said Sheehy.
After being offered the position, Lambright said it wasn't until the B.A.R. sought to interview her that she learned of the dearth of transgender people hired on as supervisor aides.
"That is crazy. I am glad Supervisor Sheehy took a chance on me," said Lambright, who first moved to San Francisco three years ago after landing a fellowship at the American Conservatory Theater's Costume Shop.
To help make ends meet, she worked as a housekeeper on weekends. Theresa Sparks, formerly Lee's adviser on transgender issues, hired her to clean her house after they met at a dinner party. Sparks soon became a mentor to Lambright, encouraging her to volunteer with local nonprofits serving the transgender community.
"She really mentored me a lot on life in general and the things we have to navigate as trans women," said Lambright, who had lived in the city's Sunset district then moved to West Oakland.
Sparks told the B.A.R. she hopes Lambright's hiring will open the door for more transgender people to enter into political roles. Not only have few been hired for prominent roles at City Hall, but Sparks also noted how the city has yet to elect a transgender person to a municipal office.
"Hopefully she will be someone to open some of these doors and other people will follow," said Sparks, who like Haaland ran unsuccessfully for supervisor years ago.
Lambright grew up in LaGrange, Indiana and graduated from Ball State University with a degree in theater and costume construction. She always dreamed of moving to San Francisco, which she had visited as a teenager with her father.
In her senior year of high school Lambright came out as gay, causing a rift with her dad, who is divorced from her mother. In college she came out as a nonbinary queer woman, and although she does speak with her father, they don't discuss her gender identity.
"Of course being nonbinary I feel that it colors my world and will inform how I see the world and things," said Lambright. "We can do great things just as other people if given the opportunity. For me growing up not being comfortable with yourself, you don't get the knowledge you can do whatever you want."
Jackie Thornhill, who is a transgender woman and a political science major at the University of San Francisco, would one day like to work for a supervisor as their legislative aide. Last year she was a fellow in the office of District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim for 11 months.
She surmised the lack of trans supervisor aides is due to the barriers many transgender people have faced in earning an education and finding employment. Those hurdles can turn into barriers in being selected for such coveted positions, said Thornhill.
"It is tough for a lot of people in the transgender community who had a lot of other obstacles in their lives that may have held them back from getting to that point where they would be considered a candidate," said Thornhill. "It is why it is so important transgender people have access to education and health care and housing. When you have the resources to live a stable life and be productive, you will see more transgender people working in jobs like this."
Haaland, who now lives in Solano County, said there is not enough support for transgender people, as well as bisexuals and lesbians, who are interested in getting into politics and government, even in as liberal a place as the Bay Area.
"As much as San Francisco is a very progressive city, I would say there hasn't always been a lot of support politically for transgender people in leadership," he said. "We need to support more women, bisexuals, and transgender people in leadership and these governmental positions so the community can access the resources and support."
Trans SF leader moves to the heartland
Two decades after moving to San Francisco from San Diego in order to live in a city she believed was more welcoming of transgender individuals, Sparks this month moved to the country's heartland to be closer to her two adult children and four grandchildren.
She left Sunday for Westwood, Kansas outside of Kansas City.
"I rented a house back there for six months. We will see how it works," Sparks told the B.A.R. last Thursday as she watched movers pack up her belongings.
She is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren ages 7, 10, 11, and 14. Sparks is also planning to write her memoirs while residing in the Sunflower State.
Nonetheless, she said she was "sad and sorry to be saying goodbye" to her home of 20 years. She didn't rule out returning someday, telling the B.A.R. "you never know."
In November, Sparks officially retired from the city when she stepped down from the transgender adviser role. She first became a city employee in 2009 when then-mayor Gavin Newsom hired her to oversee the Human Rights Commission. Sparks is believed to be the first transgender person hired as a city department head.
It was a far cry from when Sparks first arrived in the city to begin her gender transition and struggled to land a job. She drove a cab for a while to make ends meet and became active in city politics and a vocal transgender activist. Eventually the sex toy retailer Good Vibrations hired her as its CEO.
In 2001 former mayor Willie Brown appointed her as the first transgender person to serve as a human rights commissioner. Three years later she became the first transgender person to serve on the city's police commission, as the supervisors nominated her to the powerful oversight body. In 2007 she was voted in as its president.
A large factor for why Sparks chose to move is the high cost of living in San Francisco. In Kansas, she won't need to find a new job, as she will be able to live off her city pension.
"I will find something if I feel like it. The cost of living is so much lower there that I don't have to do anything," said Sparks.
By moving to the conservative state, Sparks is losing the LGBT protections she has fought so hard for in both San Francisco and throughout California. Kansas provides hardly any protections against discrimination due to one's sexual orientation or gender identity.
"I feel like I am sneaking behind enemy lines," joked Sparks.
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 Board President London Breed's plans to shuffle committee assignments for supervisors.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org .