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Most LGBT panelists pick Sanders at election forum

by Sari Staver

Panelists Anjali Rimi, left, Terry Beswick, Melanie Nathan, Honey Mahogany, David Campos, and Peter Gallotta discussed their picks for Democratic candidates for president at a February 21 Commonwealth Club forum. Photo: Sari Staver
Panelists Anjali Rimi, left, Terry Beswick, Melanie Nathan, Honey Mahogany, David Campos, and Peter Gallotta discussed their picks for Democratic candidates for president at a February 21 Commonwealth Club forum. Photo: Sari Staver  

Democratic socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was the favorite of most of the LGBT panelists who discussed the Democratic Party's presidential race February 21 at an event held at the Commonwealth Club and moderated by Michelle Meow.

Meow put the panelists on the spot from the get-go, asking each to name and explain their pick. Although the panelists were each affiliated with a prominent LGBT organization or cause, they each stressed that they were speaking only for themselves.

(Sanders won the February 22 Nevada caucuses. California voters head to the polls on March 3, Super Tuesday.)

Perhaps surprisingly, only one panelist picked the sole out candidate, gay former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, said that although he will support any of the candidates who is ultimately the nominee, his top choice is Buttigieg.

Beswick, previously the executive director of the Castro Country Club and a longtime LGBT and AIDS activist, said he "takes offense" when people assume he's supporting Buttigieg "because I'm a gay guy."

Instead, Beswick thinks Buttigieg is a "practical progressive" with "commonsense goals" and a roadmap to get them through Congress. After hearing Buttigieg speak, Beswick concluded that he was "very engaging and very intelligent" and seemed able to communicate "very complex ideas to people with different" viewpoints. Beswick thinks Buttigieg has the capacity to "unify everyone" and his "persuasive" and non confrontational style, which helps people to "see the other side" of an issue.

Buttigieg's candidacy is "important historically" Beswick noted, because the publicity about a gay man running the first credible presidential campaign can reach LGBT kids living in small towns who are still being "tossed out" by prejudice. (Gay Republican Fred Karger ran for his party's nomination in 2012, but didn't get the media attention or financial contributions that Buttigieg has garnered.)

David Campos, a gay man who's chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and a former member of the city's Board of Supervisors, said he was one of the first elected officials to support Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, before his 2016 run for the Democratic nomination and still supports him. Despite his position with the Democratic Party, Campos, now a deputy county executive in Santa Clara County, said that he sees himself "as an outsider" and believes one of the reasons Democrats lost their way is that they "became Republican" through their connections to Wall Street and corporate interests.

Campos believes Democrats want someone who is honest and "has integrity" while still being able to take into account other points of view. President Donald Trump succeeded because his "sexist, bigoted" behavior "actually resonated" with millions of people, Campos said.

Also behind Sanders is Peter Gallotta, an elected member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and former president of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club.

Gallotta, who said his interests are focused on environmental issues and climate change, thinks Sanders would make the best Democratic candidate. When Sanders campaigned four years ago, "it felt like a breath of fresh air." Support for Sanders, including his proposal for Medicare for All, has attracted a rapidly growing movement, he said.

Meanwhile, said Gallotta, the Democratic Party "is figuring out who we are."

"The central issue is one of equity" and "addressing the needs of working people," said Campos. "And health care is just one example of the inequality" currently in the U.S. At an event where Sanders spoke last year, "it was amazing to see the energy and diversity" of people who came together with "a vision beyond fighting Trump," he added.

Honey Mahogany, a queer trans woman of color and an appointed member of the D-triple-C, as it's known, is a co-founder of Compton's Transgender Cultural District and a co-owner of the Stud, a South of Market LGBT bar, thinks that both Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Sanders are "strong candidates." Mahogany, previously a social worker, believes health care should be the top issue.

Warren has shown herself to be "fearless" in terms of "speaking truth to power," Mahogany, now a legislative aide for District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, said.

"It's time for a woman to be president," she added. The U.S. has been "ruled by men for so long" and "they haven't done a great job."

Democrats, said Mahogany, have sold out to corporate interests.

"We need leaders who are authentic and say what they mean," she added.

Another trans woman of color, Anjali Rimi, president of the board of directors of Parivar, a queer South Asian community organization, and a member of the board of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee, doesn't have a favorite candidate yet.

But Rimi, who worked in corporate America for 16 years and was fired from a job in 2005 when she was transitioning, has thought about issues some of the candidates will face.

Middle America, she said, is not ready for Sanders' socialist "revolution." While Buttigieg's years in the armed forces were "honorable," he doesn't have the policy experience needed to be president, she added.

"I'll get swayed by whoever convinces me," she said. Under Trump, Rimi received her gender marker change and was granted citizenship. Under former president Barack Obama, she said, she was twice denied a green card. At this point, she said, a candidate would "need to prove they can relate to me so that I can see hope" for the future.

Melanie Nathan, executive director of the African Human Rights Coalition and a founding director of Private Courts Inc., a mediation services company, supports Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor. "I read his plans and I was reasonably impressed," until the mention of his negative comments about trans people. Nathan said she thinks Bloomberg has the best chance "of getting Trump the fuck out of there."

(BuzzFeed reported last week that in a video of Bloomberg taken last year, he described trans people as "she, he, it" and "some guy wearing a dress.")

Based on her estimates of which candidate had the best odds of winning states such as Florida and Texas, Nathan concluded that Bloomberg "stands a better chance" than Sanders. Putting aside some of the "terrible things" Bloomberg has said about women and the LGBT community, Nathan said she favors a two-step strategy of picking a candidate who is able to be elected and once in office, "use that as a springboard for our idealism."

To watch the forum, go to the podcast at https://www.commonwealthclub.org/events/archive/podcast/lgbtqi-leaders-picking-democratic-presidential-candidate

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