Contra Costa Supervisor Carlson marks 1st Pride Month

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 7, 2023
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Contra Costa County Supervisor Ken Carlson, right, rode in the June 4 Clayton Pride parade with his husband, Jeremy Carlson. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland<br>
Contra Costa County Supervisor Ken Carlson, right, rode in the June 4 Clayton Pride parade with his husband, Jeremy Carlson. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

A week into June and it already has been a busy month for gay Contra Costa County Supervisor Ken Carlson, the first out member of the countywide governing body. At the start of Pride Month last Thursday, he raised the Progress Pride flag at the County Administration Building in Martinez and also attended that day the city of Concord's Pride flag raising ceremony.

Sunday he rode in his first Pride event as the representative of the board's District 4 seat, which he was elected to last November. Joining him in the Clayton Pride Parade was his husband, Jeremy Carlson, wearing a matching black T-shirt declaring in rainbow-colored text "Love is Love."

"It was a little overwhelming," Carlson, 60, told the Bay Area Reporter about taking part in the town's second annual LGBTQ celebration. "For Clayton being a small community, the turnout was great."

Earlier this year he had issued a proclamation for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District's Pride Prom held in April. This week, he attended the Pride flag raising at the Phillips 66 facility in Rodeo on Tuesday.

Next Tuesday, June 13, Carlson will lead the supervisors' Pride Month Presentation honoring a number of groups for their support of the East Bay county's LGBTQIA+ community. Among them are health care workers, the RYSE Center for youth in the city of Richmond, and the Royal Grand Ducal Council of Alameda/Contra Costa County.

The LGBTQ philanthropic organization in 2009 had crowned Carlson as its Royal Grand Duke XVIII Ken St. Michael and his husband as the Royal Grand Duchess XVII Vivian Lee St. Michael. Due to Carlson having served as a Concord police sergeant, they chose St. Michael for their titles because he is the patron saint of police officers.

Also being honored is the Rainbow Community Center, the LGBTQ center in Concord on whose board Carlson had served on as president. He is also planning to take part in the Pride in the Plaza event the agency is hosting Saturday, June 17.

As for taking part in the Bay Area's largest LGBTQ celebration, the San Francisco Pride Parade on Sunday, June 25, Carlson doesn't plan to have his own contingent this year. He told the B.A.R. he may inquire about marching with the Ducal Council contingent.

"There is a lot going on," Carlson noted of this year's Pride Month. "I am not sure what my schedule will allow."

In an email to his constituents inviting them to the county supervisors' Pride observance in its chambers, Carlson noted the significance of the moment due to his breaking through a political glass ceiling in last year's election.

"As the first openly gay member of the board, I recognize that my role and this moment wouldn't be possible without those who came before me," wrote Carlson, who served nearly a decade on the Pleasant Hill City Council.

He added, "I look forward to continuing to fight for more inclusivity and acceptance in our community and across our country. Inclusivity starts in our community. I encourage you to attend Pride Events throughout Contra Costa County to support your neighbors."

East Bay native

Carlson grew up in Concord until his family moved to Pleasant Hill in the early 1970s. His grandfather, James Moriarty, was a county supervisor in the 1970s.

As the B.A.R. noted when Carlson announced his supervisor bid in 2021, he is believed to have been the first out LGBTQ candidate to seek a seat on the five-person board overseeing the sprawling East Bay county. Today, he is the only known out supervisor serving in the nine-county Bay Area region outside of San Francisco County, which now has three gay men on its Board of Supervisors.

"Of course it has been great. I get to work with some great folks," Carlson told the B.A.R. during a recent phone interview to discuss his being the first out supervisor on his county board. "The staff have been tremendous, and my other board members have been great. There hasn't been a hint of negativity."

Justice and equity

One issue he has been working on is if LGBTQ concerns will be part of the purview of the county's Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice that it is establishing. In meetings he has had with LGBTQ advocates, it is one issue that has been brought up.

"Where will the LGBTQIA representation be in that organization and will there be someone specific to our community who will have input and say on what goes on in that office," Carlson said are some of the questions he has asked about the new office.

Another area he believes the office should be focused on is access to LGBTQ culturally competent health care in the county, as it runs its own health system. Carlson told the B.A.R. it has been an ongoing concern, particularly around the health needs of transgender youth.

"Even I know our community is more comfortable going to Planned Parenthood to get access to health care as opposed to other health care systems, and that can include the county health care system as well," said Carlson. "How can we address that is what I see the Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice being about."

Allotted a certain number of seats on county commissions and boards to fill — his recommended appointees must be approved by the supervisors — Carlson told the B.A.R. he is being cognizant of the need to have LGBTQ people on the oversight bodies.

"For example, we have a housing and homelessness commission, and a mental health commission. We need people to apply to serve on them," noted Carlson.

Improving his own communication with his constituents has been another focus of Carlson's during his first six months on the board. He is an infrequent user of Instagram and isn't active on Twitter, where he doesn't have an official profile as supervisor. His personal page still lists him as a Pleasant Hill council member, with his last post made in late March 2022.

He does post to his official Facebook page throughout the week, but not daily — or multiple times a day — like some other politicians. Carlson also sends out an emailed newsletter usually twice a week and has worked to make it more personal, as he had been advised to do by his campaign manager.

"Within a month or two, he told me, 'OK, you are getting there.' But I was told to get more out there and show you are doing more, and to share more of what you want to do," recalled Carlson, who included a photo of his being at Clayton Pride in his June 6 newsletter.

Being out front on issues, particularly those related to the LGBTQ community, whether in the press or on social media, doesn't come naturally for him, explained Carlson, who did do a recent interview with the Bay Area's NBC affiliate, KNTV-TV, to mark Pride Month.

"Part of it is me. I lived in the closet a longtime," said Carlson, who was raised Mormon and had three daughters with his ex-wife.

Earlier this year, Carlson learned of several students being bullied due to their race or gender identity and attended a rally held at a local middle school to show them his support. More recently, after being connected through a friend of a friend, Carlson met with the mother of a transgender student who was being bullied at their middle school in Concord, though he lamented that as a supervisor, he has "no leverage over" how the school district has handled the matter.

With his being a gay county leader and retired police officer, Carlson had expected he would field press requests for comment when news broke this spring about racist and homophobic text chains involving 45 Antioch police officers. Several people arrested by the police have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, and the office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta launched an investigation of the police department.

Because the county's district attorney has also been involved, Carlson said he has been paying attention to the scandal. As part of the balanced budget the supervisors approved last month, they budgeted an extra $2.1 million for the county's D.A. and public defender to bring on five new employees each to review cases handled by the implicated Antioch officers.

Yet, until the B.A.R. asked him about it, Carlson said no one had sought his comment about the scandal. (As Antioch isn't within his supervisorial district, he didn't put out a statement on his own.)

"Friends have asked me about it. It is highly offensive," said Carlson, adding that it is also "just sad. It is so depressing."

He said he never encountered anti-LGBTQ sentiment or racist behavior during his 29 years with the Concord police department.

"When I look back on my 30 years essentially being an officer, I never had an overt racially-motivated or homophobic anything that I can recall," he said.


As for what issues are top of mind for his constituents, Carlson said it is housing, homelessness, and how to respond to people's mental health needs.

"The community has made that very clear," he said.

Going from being a city leader to a county officeholder has meant more requests for him to appear at various events. He finds it hard to say no to the invitations.

"My schedule is much fuller than it has ever been," said Carlson. "But that is what I am here to do, engaging with constituents and finding out what their needs are. To me, being a supervisor has been everything I expected, granted on a larger scale and a little more responsibility."

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