Proud, out, and in politics

  • by Jovanka Beckles
  • Wednesday June 21, 2017
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Richmond City Councilmember and state Assembly candidate<br>Jovanka Beckles
Richmond City Councilmember and state Assembly candidate
Jovanka Beckles

Pride events are an opportunity to celebrate with queer people and allies but there is a somber reality that remains. The reality that homophobia and heterosexism are still very much alive in our society, and their negative impacts can be seen.

When I was elected to the Richmond City Council in 2010, I was happy, openly out, and proud, but being proud has not always been easy for LGBTQQI folks. Like many of my generation, I have experienced both blatant and subtle forms of homophobia in my life before, and since, entering the political arena.

As the first openly lesbian city councilmember elected in Richmond, I was harshly reminded that I was seen by some constituents as a threat and an abomination. My lesbianism was shamelessly and opportunistically used against me to further the political agenda of other elected officials. I was relentlessly, and publicly, attacked by constituents and colleagues whose hate speech was protected by the First Amendment. I was told that legally, their right to free speech was considered stronger than my right not to have to endure hate speech directed toward a protected class.

I co-created a workplace no-bullying policy in the city because no one should fear going to work because of their sexual orientation or gender identification.

What we now know as Pride Month throughout the country, and in many parts of the world, is an annual celebration of LGBTQQI lives and the gains we have made in the fight to simply be who we are. While many of us lived through the historical painful events that brought about the need for LGBTQQI awareness and Pride, still many others either never knew or have forgotten how it came to be.

The Pride movement was born out of fighting back against rampant homophobia that frequently escalated into physical violence in which individuals were seriously injured and sometimes killed. A disproportionately high number of individuals took their own lives because they could not bear the suffering inflicted upon them. The struggle continues today in spite of what many of us experience as the gains of a powerful "gay liberation" movement.

Our numbers have multiplied and our allies have grown and multiplied – families and parents have come to embrace their children and their siblings, employers realize that they need not fear us, and heterosexual families began to see that our families in many ways are just like theirs. We love our children, we respect our relationships, we value our commitments to one another, and we want what is best for our family just like they do.

I know from experience that running as an openly gay candidate in any election can be a daunting proposition. At every level LGBTQQI politicians have faced adversity and homophobic attacks. I also know that without LGBTQQI candidates we would have no LGBTQQI politicians, and it is LGBTQQI politicians that best protect and expand our rights – even though this is not their exclusive domain, nor should it be. Our greatest LGBTQQI fighters and s/heroes exemplify this truth through their actions and policy decisions.

Together, as voters, candidates, and elected officials, we can bring about true change and progress.

That is why I am running for Assembly District 15, to succeed Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) as he campaigns for state superintendent of public instruction. I am running to give the LGBTQQI communities across California a seat at the table and an advocate fighting for our rights in the Capitol.

I am out and proud this year and every year. My personal and professional commitment to the LGBTQQI community is to fight against the myriad issues that threaten to oppress us and to render us invisible once again. This Pride month I am gearing up to be your voice in Sacramento.


Jovanka Beckles is a member of the Richmond City Council, where she sits as vice mayor. She is a candidate for the open 15th Assembly District seat in next year's election.