Online Extra: Political Notes: CA Dem LGBT caucus to elect new leaders

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Monday April 1, 2013
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Members of the LGBT Caucus of the California Democratic Party are set to elect a new crop of leaders at the upcoming state confab, as both of its co-chairs are stepping down. It is expected that, for the first time, two bisexual caucus members will be elected to lead the group.

Clark Williams, the current northern co-chair, and his family are relocating from San Jose to Los Angeles due to his husband, Jim Moore, being transferred for work. Not only is he giving up the party post he has held since 2011, but Williams is also resigning from his seat on the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority.

"Yes, alas, our family is relocating to LA! Can you believe it? I'm such a devoted northern Californian that it's still a shock to me," Williams told the Bay Area Reporter last month in a message sent via Facebook. "I am sad to leave northern California yet, at the same time, am getting excited about the big move."

Williams had served as a vice chair of the party caucus prior to being elevated to chair. He said it is a good time for him to step aside.

"After six years in a leadership role, it's time for new leaders to step forward and the good news is we've got a great team stepping forward to lead," wrote Williams.

San Diego resident Pat Washington , the caucus' southern co-chair, also elected not to seek another term this year. She lost her bid for a state Assembly seat last year, and in an email last month, said she is currently focused on helping a gay Ugandan man living in her city seek asylum in the U.S.

She wrote that she loves "the work the caucus does and I truly hope the new leadership has a great time in their positions and accomplishes a lot for our LGBT communities and individuals."

Running to be the new northern co-chair is Fremont resident John Cleary, 36, the immediate past president of the Los Angeles Stonewall Democratic Club. Cleary has been serving as the caucus' vice-chair for the southern region since 2011 and was its former caucus secretary.

He relocated to the Bay Area in October due to his partner, Thai Nguyen, landing a new job. Cleary is telecommuting for his job with the University of Southern California, and the couple is in the process of adopting a 6-month-old son named Kyle .

"We have Kyle in daycare so I can work full-time," he said.

Up for the southern co-chair position is Laguna Beach resident Denise Penn, who would only say she is over 40 and a baby boomer. An at-large executive board member of the caucus, Penn is a journalist and editor who has worked for several LGBT publications.

She currently writes for and edits the online newsmagazine of the American Institute of Bisexuality. Friends with Cleary for the past eight years, Penn said the two do not expect to be challenged for the co-chair positions.

"This will be historic. Not only will the California LGBT caucus have �" the first one in the country really �" an openly bi co-chair, but both co-chairs are bi identified," said Penn, whose longtime partner, Democratic Party activist Jean Harris, died in 2011. "A lot of people don't know John is bi because he is not a bi activist."

Cleary told the B.A.R. that he is more known as a progressive activist working on LGBT rights and other issues. He said his seeking to become co-chair of the caucus is a "natural progression" to his political work.

In 2003 he was a founding member of the Young Stonewall Democrats club in L.A., the first of its kind. He went on to help form similar groups in San Diego, Houston, and Dallas.

He led the L.A. Stonewall chapter for four years and served on the national board. For the last eight years Cleary has served on the state Democratic Party's central committee; six of those years he also was on the executive board of the state party.

Despite only being in the Bay Area for five months, Cleary said he doesn't have any reservations representing the northern parts of the state on the LGBT caucus. He noted that its focus is statewide and that he has made connections with many leaders outside of L.A. over the years.

"I am connected to folks around the state pretty well," he said.

Last month he was in Sacramento speaking about his candidacy to be co-chair of the caucus before that city's Stonewall club, and he also spoke at the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club's meeting in March. He planned to also reach out to LGBT Democrats in San Francisco prior to the state convention.

Williams said he believes the caucus will be in good hands under Penn and Cleary's leadership.

"John and Denise are amazing grassroots Democratic activists and have been committed partners with me during all of my years of caucus leadership. I'm honored to support them," he wrote.

Cleary and Penn put together a slate of candidates that includes out San Francisco resident Zoe Dunning, who is running to be vice chair for the northern region of the state. She currently serves as one of the caucus' e-board at-large members.

Dunning is also an elected member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and, as a retired Navy Reserve commander, is well-known nationally for her work on military issues, including the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

In an email, Dunning said she hope to emphasize the community's issues.

"I am running for vice chair (Nor Cal) for the LGBT Caucus on a slate that plans to do more outreach and advocacy for the LGBT community throughout the state between state Democratic Party conventions and executive board meetings," Dunning said. "It is not just about supporting LGBT candidates and electeds �" it is about bringing our community's issues to the forefront in policy debates about housing, education, jobs and health care."

The vice chair candidate from the southern region is David Sanchez, who lives in Rancho Mirage in Riverside County. He is the immediate past president of the California Teachers Association, where he was the union's first openly gay president and first Latino president.

Running for re-election are San Diego resident Jess Durfee, a Democratic National Committee member, as caucus treasurer and Cory Allen, president of the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club, as caucus secretary.


Discontent in race for at-large seats

There was some discontent around the election for the three at-large executive board seats this year, as Cleary and Penn's slate did not include incumbent Ari Ruiz, a political campaign consultant in Los Angeles. Ruiz, at first, planned to run on his own for re-election to the caucus board but abandoned that plan in mid-March.

He had lined up endorsements from several prominent LGBT officials, such as state party vice chair Eric Bauman , state Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) and former Los Angeles Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg.

"I have gotten encouragement and backing from some very good people who say you should run anyway," Ruiz had told the B.A.R. prior to ending his campaign.

He said he was "disappointed" about being left off the slate but wasn't that surprised. When Cleary lived in Los Angeles, the two were often at odds during election season, backing different candidates in various races.

Asked why Ruiz was not included on their slate, Cleary said it was due to the caucus bylaws requirements for gender diversity on the e-board and wanting to include a transgender candidate on the slate. There are two lesbians and one transgender man who are part of the slate seeking the three e-board seats.

"I don't want to get into too much details, as it takes away from the broader message of the slate, but it was because of gender balance rules in our bylaws," explained Cleary. "We can't have any more than one male-identified at-large e-board member. He would be blocking out the one transgender person on the board."

Ruiz said that the gender equity issue factored into his decision.

"I was running against a transgender man," he said.

That person is Livermore native Heath Minton , who lives in Sacramento and is a legislative aide to Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco). In 2011 Minton, then known as Heather, was elected as the caucus vice chair for the northern region.

He has served as the vice president of the Stonewall Democratic Club of Greater Sacramento and is believed to be the first transgender staffer in the Capitol.

The other candidates are San Luis Obispo County resident Debra Broner and Brendalynn Goodall , president of the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club.

Broner is the first out lesbian chair of three different county Democratic central committees: Del Norte, Mendocino, and now San Luis Obispo. She is also a California Democratic Party regional director. 

Goodall said she decided to seek an e-board seat because "on a statewide level, the East Bay needs to be represented."

She added, in an emailed response, that she also "felt it was important to represent and promote the visibility of African American lesbians and people of color."

This year's California Democratic State Convention will take place April 12-14 in Sacramento. For more information, visit

The LGBT caucus meeting and election of the new officers will be held during the late afternoon on Friday, April 12. Attendance is open to all registered Democrats.

Caucus membership costs $15 this year and can be pre-paid online at


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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail [email protected].