Political Notebook: For SF D8 supe candidate Stoia, LGBTQ ties run deep

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022
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Kate Stoia is running for San Francisco's District 8 supervisor seat. Photo: Christopher Robledo
Kate Stoia is running for San Francisco's District 8 supervisor seat. Photo: Christopher Robledo

One of the biggest challenges Kate Stoia faces as she runs for San Francisco's District 8 supervisor seat this fall is explaining why someone who is not LGBTQ themselves should be elected to it. The straight, married mother is seeking what many consider to be the "gay" seat on the city's Board of Supervisors.

Back in the 1970s Harvey Milk became the first gay man to serve in it, when it was known as the District 5 seat and covered more of the city's Haight Ashbury neighborhood in addition to the LGBTQ Castro district and Noe Valley, where Stoia lives with her family. After Milk's assassination in 1978 Harry Britt, who was also gay, became his appointed successor and went on to be elected as supervisor in his own right in the 1980s.

When the city returned to electing supervisors by district in the early 2000s, the Castro and Noe Valley became part of District 8 along with Mission Dolores, Duboce Triangle, Diamond Heights, and parts of Twin Peaks. A succession of gay men have been elected to the seat, with the incumbent, Rafael Mandelman, now seeking a second and final four-year term as the District 8 supervisor.

This spring many District 8 residents, as well as LGBTQ leaders from across the city, fought to ensure its boundaries would retain as much of its LGBTQ residents as possible under the decennial redistricting process so that it would continue to favor out supervisor candidates. While it has lost much of the Mission Dolores neighborhood to District 9, it gained Cole Valley and parts of Ashbury Heights from District 5, which continues to include the Haight.

Speaking to the Bay Area Reporter, Stoia said she is fully aware of the historical and political ties between the city's LGBTQ community and the District 8 seat. She acknowledged her own sexual orientation is likely to be why certain voters won't want to elect her.

"I think it is a really fair question. I understand identity politics," said Stoia, who turns 55 this Sunday, July 31. "I think people should evaluate the candidates in any way that feels comfortable to them. If the most important thing is having a gay, lesbian, or transgender person in that seat then that is absolutely not me."

In the early 1990s Kate Stoia, left, attended several AIDS protests.  

Nonetheless, Stoia's connections to the LGBTQ community run deep. As she notes in her biography on her campaign website, after moving to the Bay Area in 1989 her first job was with the Stop AIDS Project founded by the late Ken Jones, a gay Black activist who became a close friend of hers. A UC Berkeley law school graduate, Stoia was part of the legal team that successfully sued the city in federal court in 1999 on behalf of Victoria Schneider, a transgender woman and sex worker who had been misgendered by San Francisco police and unlawfully strip searched by San Francisco sheriffs deputies.

"They strip-searched her to check her gender," recalled Stoia. "We won $750,000 from the city. It was such a triumph for her; she got to tell her story on the stand."

Not mentioned in her bio is that her late father, Alexander Stoia, was gay, and after divorcing Kate Stoia's mother in the 1970s, he ended up moving to the Bay Area and served as the director of the Oakland Museum Association. He also met and fell in love with Tony Arn then relocated to Southern California in the early 1980s when he was hired to lead the Palm Springs Desert Museum. Arn moved to West Hollywood, while Alexander Stoia lived in a Palm Springs home owned by the museum; the couple would regularly visit each other.

"I grew up around a lot of gay culture and people," said Stoia, who was born in New York and later moved with her mom to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After Alexander Stoia died in 1985, Arn maintained his relationship with Kate Stoia and has been a grandfather to her now 21-year-old son, Matan, and 19-year-old daughter Ella, whom she had with her husband Ronen Maoz, a developer who rehabs dilapidated houses in the city, as well as to the couple's teenage foster son.

"My dad had been long dead by the time my kids were born," said Stoia. "My kids consider his partner a grandfather."

Reached in London, where he is currently living, Arn told the B.A.R. in a phone interview that he had urged Stoia to consider running for elected office several years ago in order to address the various issues she has felt city leaders are failing to address, from homelessness and housing costs to support for locally-owned businesses.

"First of all, I have encouraged Kate for a long time to stop complaining and do something," said Arn, 72, who is now retired and, even while overseas, volunteers to help elect Democrats to office across the U.S. "I don't mean to say she didn't do anything, as she has been very active in the community, but I mean to start running for things."

Having seen coverage about the redistricting of the supervisor seat, Arn said he was a bit surprised to learn Stoia had decided to challenge Mandelman to represent District 8.

"My guess is she would not have run against a gay man in that area if she thought he were doing a good job," said Arn. "It is a whole dicey issue: what is the gay seat? What is the female seat?"

As he doesn't live in San Francisco, Arn told the B.A.R. he couldn't speak to Mandelman's effectiveness as a supervisor. But he said he could speak to Stoia's determination when she sets a goal for herself.

"My guess is she is running because she is convinced she would do a better job. Knowing Kate, she will," said Arn, who is relocating to Pennsylvania to help elect Democrats there this November. "I have known her since she was 11 years old. I have seen her accomplish all of her goals."

HIV positive since 1989 and a longtime member of ACT UP, Arn pointed to Stoia's going to work for an AIDS agency as one example of how she has always had strong ties to the LGBTQ community.

"She could have gotten a better paying job, but she wanted to be doing something in the community. She felt a tie to the gay male community in particular," said Arn, adding that he has always seen himself as her stepparent. "Her father, as it turned out, was gay. When he was living in New York, she knew all his gay friends. She was raised in situation where she had both a familiarity and empathy for the gay community. That is something that has continued. She has always treated me like a family member."

Rodney Earl Jackson Jr., one of two queer men of color who founded SFBATCO, the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Company, has known Stoia for roughly a decade. She helped fundraise for the arts organization and joined its board of directors.

Now, having moved into District 8's Duboce Triangle neighborhood two years ago, Jackson told the B.A.R. he plans to vote for her to be his next supervisor.

"I support Kate Stoia because Kate Stoia supports artists and people like me," said Jackson, who was born and raised in San Francisco. "She is a person who didn't have the easiest life growing up. She used her skills to help others."

He recalled how much of a "huge advocate" she was for SFBATCO and helped raise funds for it to thrive.

"Kate is one of the most strong-willed people I know. She doesn't take no as an answer," said Jackson.

He acknowledged the complexity she now faces as a candidate running for a seat long held by LGBTQ community leaders. Having out representation on the board is something Jackson said he, too, values.

"Being a queer man, I love that Rafael is also queer. Having that diversity is important for us," said Jackson, while at the same time he noted that, "Kate has been such an ally to our community. He isn't a bad person, nor is Kate. Both are wonderful people. They will duke it out."

As for what he would you tell voters who may not think Stoia would be an effective representative for the LGBTQ community at City Hall, Arn told the B.A.R. that she knows what the issues are that are impacting LGBTQ people in San Francisco and would be an "effective fighter" for them.

"In a way, it is the Harvey Milk seat, and I recognize that," he said. "I also recognize the significance and symbolic importance of it nationally. I would say I think she has a long history with lesbian and gay people, and with people with AIDS, frankly. She knows what the issues are."

On that point, Stoia said her pitch to District 8 voters is if they are happy with the status quo then reelect Mandelman. But if they aren't pleased with how the city is being managed and feel the issues they care about aren't being adequately addressed, then she hopes they vote for her. (William Jackson, a Republican who also qualified for the race, is no longer actively seeking the supervisor seat.)

"I feel there is so much more this city could be doing for the citizens here and just everyday life here in ways huge and teeny," said Stoia, who currently isn't working so as to be focused fully on her campaign in addition to her philanthropic commitments.

Mandelman, with broad support from elected leaders and various organizations, is seen as the clear frontrunner in the race. He points to the myriad policies and proposals he has fought for as the District 8 supervisor over the last four years as why he deserves a second term.

"As a district supervisor, it has been my great honor to work with neighborhood groups and community organizations to improve the areas that I represent and to work to address some of the larger citywide challenges confronting San Francisco," Mandelman noted in his questionnaire for the San Francisco Democratic Party, which is voting Wednesday night on an endorsement in the race.

To learn more about Stoia and her platform, visit her campaign site.

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 an Oakland resolution in support of repealing Prop 8.
Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes.
Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected].

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