Political Notebook: Bi Palo Alto council candidate Causey calls for Pride event

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday April 17, 2024
Share this Post:
Palo Alto City Council candidate Katie Causey wants the city to hold a Pride event. Photo: Courtesy the candidate
Palo Alto City Council candidate Katie Causey wants the city to hold a Pride event. Photo: Courtesy the candidate

A key part of Palo Alto City Council candidate Katie Causey's platform is seeing her hometown host its own Pride event. Such is the need for having a local celebration in support of the city's LGBTQ residents that Causey has made it the number one issue listed on her "Katie's Vision for Palo Alto" page on her campaign website.

In addition to throwing its own LGBTQ festival, Palo Alto should hold local festivities for Diwali, Lunar New Year, Nowruz, and other culturally important dates and holidays, argues Causey, who is bisexual and serves on her city's human relations commission.

In particular, she would like to see a Pride parade wend its way through the Silicon Valley city's downtown where she lives. She had first raised the idea in a guest opinion piece last November for Palo Alto Online.

"Palo Alto is a diverse community. But we don't always give that diversity vehicles to thrive," noted Causey, 30, in a recent phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "In nearby Redwood City in its downtown any time of the year there is some sort of cultural celebration going on, whether for Pride or for Lunar New Year. That is what I want to see for Palo Alto, to see the many communities in this city being so openly celebrated."

The South Bay is already home to a number of LGBTQ events, the largest being the annual Silicon Valley Pride held in downtown San Jose in late summer. This year it will take place August 24-25.

Individual cities in Santa Clara County, such as Sunnyvale and Cupertino, have hosted their own local Pride events in recent years. Amid municipal Pride celebrations being canceled in 2021 due to COVID, the Department of Surgery at Stanford University started hosting a parade on the campus located in Palo Alto and will do so again this June 5.

A 28-page report released in 2019 by the city's human relations commission about the needs of the local LGBTQ community, particularly young people, had broached the idea of seeing a municipal Pride celebration. It included a quote from a same-sex married parent of two children who said the visibility such an event would bring was important for their family.

"I would LOVE to see an annual Palo Alto Pride event, or at least for one of our existing city street fairs or parades to have a significant LGBTQ+ component," they were quoted as saying.

While the report didn't specifically call on city leaders to launch a Pride event, it did make note that one of the "greatest" needs was "more visibility" for the local LGBTQ community. Among its suggestions was for the city to focus its efforts "on programming, visibility and space" and "develop messaging and host events to gain visibility."

Palo Alto City Councilmember Julie Lythcott-Haims, who is Black and biracial, queer and bisexual, told the B.A.R. she wholeheartedly agrees with Causey about the need for the city to hold its own Pride celebration. While it may not be able to do so this June during Pride Month, Lythcott-Haims said she has also inquired with city staff about planning for such an event.

"I want to emphatically say that I want Palo Alto to have a Pride event," Lythcott-Haims told the B.A.R. April 15 during a phone interview.

She recalled attending Redwood City Pride with her partner and co-parent, Dan Lythcott-Haims, and seeing all of the city councilmembers in attendance. It struck a lasting impression.

"My city isn't doing anything like this," she recalled telling them that day. "We definitely need to do something."

Lythcott-Haims inquired with her city manager if there was a queer affinity group for city employees who could maybe take the lead in coming up with suggestions for holding a Pride event. Alas, she found out Palo Alto has no such employee resource group, so Lythcott-Haims said she encouraged Causey to work with others supportive of the Pride idea to come up with a formal proposal.

There is no reason to wait for Causey to be elected to a council seat to launch Palo Alto Pride, noted Lythcott-Haims.

"Whether Katie gets elected or not, it is well past time for a Pride event in Palo Alto," she contended.

Causey told the B.A.R. she would love to see it be held during June, which is annually celebrated as LGBTQ Pride Month. Doing so also wouldn't compete with the larger countywide event held each August, she noted.

"It is cool to see how each city makes it their own," said Causey. "So many cities are embracing Pride and making it their own, it makes Palo Alto look behind, especially when we have so many queer youth and they have to go to other cities to be celebrated."

As a human relations commissioner, Causey said she has taken part in listening sessions with city residents who have expressed "strong interest" in seeing Palo Alto host community cultural events. The city is in the process of hiring staff to help oversee them, she noted.

"So the pieces are coming together. The community is interested; staff is getting in line, and the council is interested," said Causey. "It is very close to becoming a reality."

An inaugural event likely could take place as soon as 2025, Causey told the B.A.R. She plans to request it be included in her advisory body's goals for next year.

As for making it such a prominent part of her campaign platform, which also focuses on building more affordable housing and addressing climate change impacts on her city, Causey sees hosting local community celebrations as something with broad support and relatively easy to achieve.

"When people hear the phrase affordable housing or climate change, it can conjure a lot of different ideas for them. I wanted to start with something tangible that I know a lot of people in the community want to see," said Causey.

A native Palo Alton

Causey was born and raised in Palo Alto and has spent most of her adult life in the Bay Area. She left briefly to earn a bachelor's degree in women's studies from George Washington University on the East Coast.

Her professional career has largely been in the South Bay's nonprofit sector; she now works as a community organizer at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. She narrowly lost her bid four years ago to the Palo Alto school board.

Nonetheless, it led her to question if she would again seek elected office. In March, she became the first person to declare their candidacy for one of the four council seats elected citywide that will be on the November 5 ballot.

"I started to realize I would be a lot more effective serving our families and teachers on City Council than school board," said Causey, who is single.

Two incumbents are expected to seek reelection, leaving two council seats open. While Lythcott-Haims has yet to endorse Causey, as she is waiting to make endorsements in the race closer to the filing deadline in early August, she did speak highly of her and her candidacy when talking to the B.A.R. this week.

"I am super excited that Katie is in the race," she said. "I think her being progressive, queer, and young is a real asset. I think she offers a perspective that our city needs to hear."

Lythcott-Haims is one of at least three LGBTQ community members who have served on the Palo Alto City Council. LaDoris Hazzard Cordell, a lesbian and retired Santa Clara County Superior Court judge, won election in 2003 and served a single term. Sid Espinosa, who is gay and served in the city's ceremonial mayor role, was elected in 2008 and served for two years. It is unclear how well known either's sexual orientation was at the time by voters. Biographies of the two do not highlight Cordell being the first lesbian on the council or Espinosa its first gay male councilmember, though he stakes claim to being its youngest mayor at age 38 and its first Latino councilmember.

When she ran in 2022, Lythcott-Haims not only mentioned her sexual orientation and racial identity on her campaign website bio but highlighted the sentence in bold. Nonetheless, her candidacy and election didn't gain much attention outside of Palo Alto at the time. (She, Cordell, and Espinosa are not listed among Santa Clara County's out elected officials on the Queer Silicon Valley website.)

"With the rise of unabashed authoritarianism nationally, I think it is more critical than ever that those of us who are from communities that have been historically marginalized or maligned speak up about who we are. I think we are, frankly, in a battle for the soul of America right now," said Lythcott-Haims, who dealt with homophobic comments as a council candidate. "The more we have people step up, and step forward, to say, 'No, I am here, I am queer, I am not going anywhere,' I think is important. These are scary times."

During a campaign event in a local park Lythcott-Haims recalled encountering a supporter of an anti-LGBTQ candidate for school board who referred to LGBTQ people as deviants. Lythcott-Haims, who came out in her 40s, choked up recalling the incident this week to the B.A.R.

"It was one of probably the first times I was confronted face to face about my queerness and made to feel somehow I am a deviant human being. It was all I could do not to cry," said Lythcott-Haims, 56, who credited another council candidate, Alex Comsa, for coming over, giving her a hug, and walking them away from the woman.

They then held an event with their fellow candidates in front of city hall to denounce hateful campaign tactics. Causey told the B.A.R. she expects to be the lone out council candidate this cycle and is trying to not focus on any negative comments regarding her own candidacy.

"I am aware they are there but don't want them to be my main focus," she said, adding she is excited about possibly doubling LGBTQ representation on the council. "It is nice when the city council can start to look more like the community it represents. It makes our policy decisions more effective for the community."

As for Lythcott-Haims, who came up short in her bid for an open U.S. House seat in the March 5 primary where gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) ended up in a three-way tie now subject to a recount, she plans to seek reelection in 2026.

"I am planning to run. I love the work," she told the B.A.R. "You can assume I am."

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 a goal Congressmember Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) has once he becomes a U.S. senator.

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 e-mail [email protected]

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!