Editorial: Beckles' voice is needed in CA Senate

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday January 31, 2024
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State Senate candidate Jovanka Beckles. Photo: Courtesy the campaign
State Senate candidate Jovanka Beckles. Photo: Courtesy the campaign

Jovanka Beckles, a queer Black Latina immigrant woman, is making her second bid for a state legislative seat. Beckles ran for the Assembly in 2018 but came up short as current Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) won that race. A former Richmond city councilmember, Beckles, a Democrat, is currently an elected member of the board that oversees the AC Transit regional bus system. She is running for the open District 7 state Senate seat, and we recommend her in the March primary. The district (renumbered due to redistricting) includes Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro.

Beckles was thoughtful in her Bay Area Reporter endorsement questionnaire, and her experience as a mental health specialist for Contra Costa County (until her recent retirement at the end of 2023) makes her uniquely qualified for the Senate seat. Mental health, and solutions to address access to care and other issues, is a major topic, as Proposition 1 is also on the ballot. Promoted by Governor Gavin Newsom, it would overhaul the state's mental health system.

Noting that she has mentored trans youth, and is a queer parent herself, Beckles told the B.A.R. she knows the challenges facing other LGBTQ parents. She wrote that she supports increased state funding for organizations that serve trans, gender-nonconforming, and intersex people, "including expanding their capacity to provide TGI-inclusive and gender-affirming programming and services such as health care, housing, and financial assistance."

Beckles would also back legislation requiring public school districts to respond to Equality California's school surveys on LGBTQ issues. The statewide LGBTQ rights organization has had trouble getting a majority of school districts to respond to its questionnaires it sends out biennially. "Having accurate data on LGBTQ issues, especially in schools, is critical to better understand school district demographics," she stated. "I support all legislation that would provide data needed to provide safe places and resources queer youth need, especially, but not exclusively, mental health services."

Mental health services are sorely lacking across the state, and Beckles is right to point out the need for such programs for LGBTQ young people.

Beckles also favors legislation requiring the California Department of Public Health to collect sexual orientation and gender identity data. Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) recently introduced such legislation, and Beckles stated that CDPH must have standardized guidelines for the consistent collection of such data.

Most of all, we endorse Beckles because she will fight for all families in the district. She is a survivor of harsh, ignorant, and direct homophobia that she endured on the Richmond City Council, which was widely reported at the time. "Rather than hang my head or quit my LGBTQ priorities, I realized how important it was for every LGBTQ person in Richmond and the Bay Area to see me stand tall and against the hate," she wrote. Beckles went on to be a founding member of Richmond Rainbow Pride.

The Senate district, one of the most diverse in California, has not had a person of color represent it in nearly 30 years, when then-state senator Barbara Lee went on to Congress and is now running for U.S. Senate. Representation does matter, and Beckles would not only be the state's first out Black female legislator but also a well-informed voice and champion for justice in the Legislature.

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