Guest Opinion: Advice for queer women — run for office

  • by Emma Heiken
  • Wednesday June 12, 2024
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Emma Heiken. Photo: Courtesy Emma Heiken
Emma Heiken. Photo: Courtesy Emma Heiken

In the 1990s, queer women were having their moment in San Francisco. Mary Ellen Cunha and Peggy Forster had proudly opened the windows of Twin Peaks Tavern for all the world to see. The city was sprinkled with queer, women-owned bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and bookstores, as chronicled in Chloe Sherman's "Renegades." Within just a few years, San Franciscans elected lesbians Roberta Achtenberg, Susan Leal, Carole Migden, and Leslie Katz to the Board of Supervisors. (Christina Olague, a bisexual, was appointed to the board by the late mayor Ed Lee in 2012 but did not win election.)

But looking around, we don't see this robust representation of queer women in San Francisco anymore. Businesses catering to queer men outnumber those catering to queer women many times over. We can count the elected queer women in San Francisco on one hand. That's why this month at the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, I am introducing a resolution urging us to do better. We need to recruit, empower, and elect more queer women in San Francisco and make sure the voices of this resilient and underrepresented community are heard.

In the absence of electoral representation this Pride Month, we must turn to other resources to make sure queer women's voices are heard. So, here I present you with the voices of three queer women in San Francisco on what Pride means to them:

Angelina Polselli, 24, Lower Haight

"What does Pride mean? It means to be in community. It means to hold each other through unimaginable pain. It means to recognize that for some of those we hold, each day is not promised.

"To be a queer woman in San Francisco means to exist at the margins of what society deems as normal, as acceptable. To be a queer woman in San Francisco is to be an active participant in building a new world, a world that values human life, a world that exists out of the binary, a world where humanity takes center stage.

"Each day our community is faced with grief, but what will never be taken from us is our boundless love and joy. To me, Pride in 2024 means freedom."

Sophia Andary, 42, Richmond District

"Pride represents the vital celebration of identity, resilience, and community. Activism and protest are crucial in driving the fight for equality and justice for all.

"As a queer woman of color, war survivor, refugee, and first-generation Lebanese American, I was drawn to activism to champion human rights and amplify the voices of the most marginalized, especially women of color.

"While San Francisco is often seen as an LGBTQ+ haven, it is primarily shaped by and for white gay men. It's frustrating that our current elected officials, including our gay male supervisors, don't reflect the values of most queer women and don't represent us. To create real change, we need to support, uplift, and elect queer and trans women and women of color.

"There is no pride in white supremacy. There is no pride in misogyny. There is no pride in police brutality. There is no pride in imperialism. There is no pride in genocide.

"These beliefs are interconnected through human rights and intersectionality, recognizing that our struggles are linked and must be tackled together.

"Human rights must be universal, not selective, to achieve liberation for all. Pride isn't just a celebration; it's a call to action for a world where everyone's rights and dignity are upheld."

Roberta Achtenberg, 73, Noe Valley

"Since 1990, I have served four times in positions of public trust at the federal, state, and local levels — first as San Francisco County supervisor, then as Fair Housing Assistant Secretary in the Clinton administration, as a trustee and board chair of the California State University Board of Trustees, and finally as a Barack Obama appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

"Each time I served I did so proudly and openly as a member of this LGBTQ+ community. This community has helped inform and ground my public service. This community defended me when I was subjected to hate-fueled right-wing attacks and celebrated my service when I needed support to 'keep on keepin' on.' Most importantly, this community reminds me that I come from somewhere and that my words and actions reflect not only on me and my family, but on my community, as well. Having grown up in this community, I am accountable to this community.

"From our movement's earliest days, we have mounted our efforts, not only on our own behalf, but in solidarity with all those treated as 'other,' 'less than,' 'unworthy.' That inclusive view of social justice and LGBTQ+ equality is what Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin taught us, and that is what must continue to guide the work of those, identified with this community, who chose a role in public life."

Emma Heiken is the vice chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party where she serves as the highest-ranking LGBTQ+ member and only queer woman. She has worked on policy from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. and currently serves as a legislative aide to District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar. Heiken lives in the Mission with her partner and their cat, Tuesday.

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