Political Notebook: Gay GOPer DeMaio could find cold welcome from LGBTQ caucus

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday January 9, 2024
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Assembly candidate Carl DeMaio. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Assembly candidate Carl DeMaio. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

As soon as gay former Republican San Diego city councilman Carl DeMaio in December jumped into the race for the open Assembly District 75 seat, LGBTQ state legislators were wondering if the firebrand conservative would want to join their affinity group for out members of the Legislature should he be elected. And if he did, they jokingly asked who wanted to volunteer to tell him he wasn't welcome.

They were obvious questions to raise as the 49-year-old DeMaio has vocally disparaged the priorities of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus on his radio show, social media accounts, and the website of Reform California, the organization he chairs "dedicated to taking back our state from the far-Left politicians and special interests." Several laws authored or supported by caucus members last year made DeMaio's list of the top five worst California laws in 2024.

Among them was Assembly Bill 1078 authored by gay Assemblymember Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris), which restricts school boards from censoring instructional materials based on their LGBTQ content or coverage of topics like race. The law, which took effect in the fall as soon as Governor Gavin Newsom signed it, also prohibits public schools in the state from banning books that address those two topic areas.

DeMaio lambasted the bill for only serving "as an infringement of local control over curriculum decisions" and for limiting "the ability of parents and communities to have a say in what is taught in schools."

He also criticized Senate Bill 407 by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) that requires foster care officials ensure LGBTQ children in the system are placed with foster families that will be supportive of their sexual orientation or gender identity. DeMaio derisively referred to the bill as requiring foster families "to support gender-bending surgeries and therapies for minor children" if they don't want to lose their ability to be foster parents.

"At a time when there is a severe shortage of foster homes, this new law is insane and only will hurt foster kids!" argued DeMaio, who had railed against the bill last spring for targeting "foster parents who aren't woke enough."

It is no wonder there is already speculation about what a victory by DeMaio in his Assembly bid might mean in terms of his membership in the caucus, which currently has a historic 12 members. Three are set to depart come December, lesbian Senators Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), the soon-to-step-down Senate president pro tempore, and Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) due to term limits and gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) because he is running for Congress this year.

The LGBTQ caucus formed in 2002; members are required to identify with one of the letters of the LGBTQ acronym. To date, straight legislators with LGBTQ children or siblings have been told they are ineligible to join.

There has never been a Republican member. Gay former GOP senator Roy Ashburn came out in 2010 due to being arrested for drunk driving after leaving a Sacramento gay club, but he never joined the caucus and left office later that year when his term expired.

There are at least 30 LGBTQ candidates running for state legislative seats in the March primary that the Bay Area Reporter is aware of, with several seeking the same office. Come November it is expected that at least half of them, if not more, will win their races, with DeMaio seen as having the greatest chances of becoming the first out Republican elected to the California Legislature.

Those who do win will help decide if DeMaio, should he also be declared the winner of his contest, should be allowed to become a member of the LGBTQ caucus, gay Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) told the B.A.R. in December when he happened to be in San Francisco for a holiday party and meetings with local leaders and housing advocates. As he is currently vice chair of the affinity group, Ward is set to become chair of the LGBTQ caucus during the 2025-2027 legislative sessions.

"We have not had a conversation about the qualifications for membership. I would imagine the caucus members would find it very difficult to accept someone who is not in support of marriage equality, who is married incidentally, or someone who is not consistent with our core priorities," said Ward, who endorsed Democrat Kevin Juza in the Assembly race with DeMaio.

Dylan Martin, a spokesperson for DeMaio's Assembly campaign, did not respond to the B.A.R.'s questions about DeMaio's interest in becoming a member of the LGBTQ caucus.

DeMaio routinely boasts that he was the first "openly gay man" elected to the San Diego council with his 2008 victory. Yet ever since DeMaio has been harshly criticized for not fighting for LGBTQ rights and cynically using his own sexual orientation in his political campaigns.

While running for his council seat DeMaio did nothing to oppose Proposition 8, California's 2008 ban on same-sex marriage. He later accepted campaign donations from backers of the homophobic ballot measure during his failed mayoral run in 2012, reportedly after promising not to push an LGBTQ agenda at City Hall.

Two years later he featured his then-boyfriend, Johnathan Hale, in an online ad for his ultimately failed congressional bid, winning praise for being the first known GOP candidate to do so. The men married in 2015 on the occasion of their sixth anniversary of meeting, though DeMaio makes no mention of his husband in his Assembly campaign bio.

In 2020, DeMaio failed to survive a heated primary race when he again ran for Congress. Despite his personal electoral setbacks DeMaio has scored some victories at the ballot box, particularly the successful recall he led of former Democratic state senator Josh Newman in 2018. Newman had drawn DeMaio's ire for casting the deciding vote the year prior for an increase in the state's gas and car taxes.

More recently DeMaio has focused on pushing statewide ballot measures via his Reform California position. He is well known in the San Diego area and seen as a formidable contender to succeed termed out Assemblymember Marie Waldron (R-Escondido), as evidenced by the nearly $1 million he has netted ahead of the March primary, in which the top two vote-getters will advance to the November ballot.

Ward told the B.A.R. DeMaio "is a known quantity" and "has a shot" at winning the Assembly seat, which borders on the east his own 78th Assembly District.

"He has a following amongst the Republican base in that Assembly District," noted Ward, adding that DeMaio speaks to some very "hateful feelings in order to achieve cheap political points. If that is a recipe to win that is unfortunate."

Wiener told the B.A.R. the issue of DeMaio's membership in the LGBTQ caucus would need to be addressed should DeMaio win his race. He expressed concern about seeing DeMaio try to derail the affinity group's legislative work as a caucus member.

"I think we have to definitely take a look at it. I don't want to go too far out on this, as it should be a caucus discussion and I would want to know what our leadership thinks," said Wiener. "There is also a range when it comes to Republicans, and Carl has proven himself to be untrustworthy and hostile in many, many ways to our community. I think it could be very problematic; he could end up being a saboteur in our caucus."

The issue of his being allowed into the affinity group, added Wiener, "is certainly a conversation we will have to have and be respectful of our leadership."

As for his bill that DeMaio lambasted, Wiener said it makes no sense for the state to be putting foster youth into homes that could be hostile to them. He noted LGBTQ youth can come out at any age and years after being paired with their foster parents, so it is important to have the policy in place when screening potential foster families.

"The idea we would put a kid in a foster home that is then going to kick that kid out when the kid comes out makes no sense. Why on earth would we ever do that?" asked Wiener. "Foster parents can have any opinion they want. But when you are taking care of a child on behalf of the state of California, you should be aware of and able to comply with the legal requirement not to discriminate against these kids."

SF fundraiser for Assemblymember Jackson

This weekend Jackson will be feted at a San Francisco fundraiser for his reelection bid this year to a second two-year term. Bevan Dufty, a gay man who is president of the BART board, is co-hosting it Saturday afternoon at his Castro area home on upper Market Street.

It is the second time he is doing so, as he held a party last year to introduce the freshman lawmaker from Riverside County to leaders in San Francisco. Joi Jackson-Morgan, executive director of the 3rd Street Youth Center & Clinic, and Tyler TerMeer, Ph.D., a gay man who is CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, are co-hosts with Dufty of the January 13 fundraiser where a donation of at least $50 is requested.

It will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. To RSVP and receive the address for the fundraiser, call Dufty at 415-595-3213 or email him at [email protected]

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on endorsements two gay Bay Area candidates received in recent weeks.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Threads @ https://www.threads.net/@matthewbajko

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

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