Political Notes: SF LGBTQ Dem club elects 1st Asian male president

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday January 23, 2023
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Jeffrey Kwong, left, the new Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club president, greeted Florida high school graduate Zander Moricz, who delivered the keynote address at the club's 2022 gayla. Photo: Courtesy Instagram<br>
Jeffrey Kwong, left, the new Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club president, greeted Florida high school graduate Zander Moricz, who delivered the keynote address at the club's 2022 gayla. Photo: Courtesy Instagram

Members of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club have elected Jeffrey Kwong to lead the progressive political group in 2023. He is the first Asian American man to serve in the position and the first Asian American elected president in close to three decades.

The first Asian American to lead the club was Angie Fa, who served as president in 1992. She also that year became the first out lesbian to win a seat on San Francisco's public school board.

Kwong, a gay man, grew up in the city's Chinatown district and graduated from Lowell High School. A provider of special education services to East Bay school districts, he has been serving as the Milk club's vice president of events and fundraising the last two years.

Edward Wright, the immediate past club president, decided not to seek a third one-year term this year. Also seeking to succeed him were Michael Rouppet and Melissa Hernandez, who ran to be elected as co-presidents.

But a majority of Milk club members voted for Kwong at the political group's January 17 meeting. The results were not announced until late in the evening of Wednesday, January 18, as it took some time to verify everyone who had cast a ballot was qualified to do so, Wright explained to the Bay Area Reporter.

Kwong, 35, first joined the Milk club as a member in 2015 and was first elected to the board in 2018 to an at-large seat. Among his goals as president this year are doubling the group's membership and diversifying it.

"I was gratified that I had the confidence of members," Kwong told the B.A.R. about learning he had been elected. "I think my hard work and dedication to the club really paid off. I hope to build the club going forward."

Serving alongside Kwong on the board as the Milk club's vice president for communications will be Gary McCoy, a gay man who just cycled out of the male co-chair position at the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club. He had co-led the more moderate Alice club the last two years.

There is precedent for leaders of the city's two main LGBTQ political groups to go from leading one club to serving in a leadership role at the other. After former Milk club co-president Honey Mahogany lost her reelection bid in 2019, she ended up a co-chair of Alice's political action committee. Martha Knutzen served as Milk's president in 1995 and co-chaired Alice in 2012 and 2013.

With McCoy considered a potential candidate for the District 8 supervisor seat when it will be open and up for grabs in 2026, some have questioned if McCoy's seeking the Milk club seat is to burnish his progressive credentials ahead of the race. One of its past presidents, Tom Temprano, is also seen as a top contender to succeed gay Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whom he had worked for until leaving last year to become political director for statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California.

But McCoy has long had ties to the Milk club, joining as a member a decade ago. Two years ago he and Laura Thomas, a former Milk club co-president, were awarded the Milk club's Hank Wilson Activist Award for their advocacy in support of supervised consumption sites for drug users.

Now working as the vice president of policy and public affairs for HealthRIGHT 360, McCoy continues to press city officials to allow such a site to open. So does Thomas in her position as director of harm reduction policy at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

With the Milk club historically taking a more active role in policy fights than the Alice club has tended to do, McCoy explained to the B.A.R. that is why he sought a board seat at Milk this year. It provides him a platform to work with other Milk club members on pushing for safe consumption sites to open in California.

Although Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill last year that would have allowed several cities, including San Francisco, to pilot such a facility for drug users, city officials are now looking at allowing a local nonprofit to operate one. Mayor London Breed and District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen announced last week they are working to update city rules that they say prevent a privately run safe consumption site from being approved.

"I've enjoyed my time with Alice as a board member for over a decade, but working in collaboration with the Milk Club for the last few years on a number of issues in various capacities has pulled me closer to that grassroots activism," stated McCoy. "I'd been chatting with folks at Milk about finally getting more active throughout this past year, and had expressed interest in working on communications for the club. Being nominated was an honor, and I'm grateful to the club for their support in electing me to the board for 2023."

Lesbian elected to lead Dem county party

Joy Silver, a lesbian who lost two bids for a state Senate seat that includes the LGBTQ retirement and tourist mecca of Palm Springs, is now leading the Riverside County Democratic Party. The membership elected Silver at the county party's December meeting.

She had been serving as vice president of Democratic Women of the Desert and works as the chief strategy officer for the Community Housing Opportunities Corporation, a nonprofit affordable housing developer. In 2018 and 2020 Silver came up short in her runs for the 28th Senate District seat.

The Riverside County Democratic Party is one of 58 county committees affiliated with the California Democratic Party and works to elect the party's endorsed candidates up and down the ballot as well as to register voters. Silver succeeds Tisa Rodriguez, who resigned to become deputy director at Close the Gap California. The group works to elect women to the state's Legislature.

"I am an active and passionate advocate for Democratic candidates, dedicated to the causes we champion as a Party, and the people we serve," stated Silver, who lives in Palm Springs. "Furthermore, it is my honor to use my skill, experience, vision, and creativity to serve in the battle for Democratic control of Riverside County, and to get our candidates elected up and down the ballot."

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Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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