Political Notebook: CA US Senate candidate Reese makes her pitch to LGBTQ voters

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday September 13, 2023
Share this Post:
U.S. Senate candidate Lexi Reese. Photo: Courtesy the campaign
U.S. Senate candidate Lexi Reese. Photo: Courtesy the campaign

During her 20s in the late 1990s while briefly living in San Francisco before enrolling in graduate school, Lexi Reese thought she had found the man she would spend the rest of her life with and marry. Yet, it turned out, he was living a closeted life.

"This was a man I thought I was going to go a long, long time with but he turned out to be cheating on me and also gay," recalled Reese, adding that "what was sad to me was not that he was gay, it was the lying."

Not only was the revelation a personal jolt, said Reese, it made her realize that even in the liberal Bay Area someone could still struggle with their sexual orientation.

"I think that in particular gave me empathy of how unwelcoming the world was. Even though 1999 was better than the early 1990s when I was going to college, it was still so scary for him to be truthful about his identity," said Reese. "I think for me that, and one of my best friends going through an experience like it, probably just brought it home as a lived experience. These are amazing people who are literally not unleashed to be their best selves because society has created a world where you have to subscribe to something that doesn't even make sense."

Even though the dissolution of her relationship was upsetting, Reese said it didn't deter her from being a supporter of the LGBTQ community.

"After getting over the personal shock and hurt of it, it made me more determined to be an ally," Reese told the Bay Area Reporter during a recent video interview.

The B.A.R. caught up with Reese, formerly an executive at Google and the HR platform Gusto, shortly after she had marched in the Silicon Valley Pride parade last month. The Woodside resident is courting LGBTQ voters as she vies to succeed retiring U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) next year.

"I am a straight ally or an accomplice depending on what you are saying," responded Reese, 49, when asked about her own sexual orientation.

The relatively unknown first-time candidate for elected office faces a steep hurdle if she wants to survive the March primary, where the top two vote-getters will advance to the November ballot. She is running against a trio of other Democrats who are far more well known, Congressmembers Barbara Lee of Oakland, Adam Schiff of Burbank, and Katie Porter of Irvine.

All three have garnered support from LGBTQ leaders throughout the state, while Lee is particularly banking on the support of LGBTQ voters in the Bay Area and Northern California, as the Political Notebook reported last week. She received a boost in her effort to reach LGBTQ voters over the weekend with Oakland Pride organizers selecting Lee as a grand marshal of their parade last Sunday.

It came as a new poll released last Thursday, September 7, found Schiff and Porter continuing to hold a lead in the contest. Schiff stood at 20% with likely voters and Porter at 17%, according to the Berkeley IGS Poll of voters conducted online in late August. Lee was at 7%, while Reese garnered just 1%.

"But in contrast to Schiff, Porter polls much better among younger voters while lagging among older voters and leads Schiff nearly three to one among voters who identify as LGBTQ," noted Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. "Lee's support is strongest among strong liberals, Black voters, LGBTQ voters, and those living in the nine-county San Francisco Bay, where her congressional district is located."

(The poll included responses from 6,030 California registered voters, of whom a weighted subsample of 3,113 were considered likely to vote in the March 2024 primary election. It found that one in three likely voters remain undecided about the race.)

Reasons for serving

Reese, who launched her bid in June, acknowledged to the B.A.R. that she has her work cut out for her in terms of educating voters about herself and her reasons for wanting to serve in the Senate.

"There is a real marketing challenge in getting out your message to 20 million voters in California. We are just getting started," said Reese, who has two daughters with her husband, Corby. "Because I am not a politician, I don't have the same name ID. I have to effectively land and expand both funders and voters powered by an organic movement. My message is we can do better than we are doing today."

The biggest concerns for most people in California, from earning a living wage and being able to afford housing, are issues Reese argues she is more than qualified to help address in Congress.

"What Californians want in their next senator is not someone who in theory understands the economy and jobs but has actually in practice created real jobs for real people," said Reese, "and understands a paycheck is about more than money; it is about dignity."

Born in Philadelphia, Reese moved around the East Coast and Midwest with her family due to her father working for Sears as a manager of its department stores. After graduating from the University of Virginia with a history degree, she worked as a documentary filmmaker and spent some time living in Nicaragua.

In 2002, Reese earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School. Since 2011, she has called the South Bay home.

A main reason she decided to seek the Senate seat was the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last year to end a federal right to abortion. Alarmed that it could portend a rollback of other rights, Reese noted it is the senators who decide who serves on the nation's federal courts.

"For me, I am seeing my kids have less rights than I have enjoyed my entire life. Roe v. Wade being rolled back one example," said Reese. "Everybody in this country is less safe than I was growing up due to the inability to get anywhere with gun safety. The rights of trans people and anyone not a cisgender, white male are being trampled on by the decisions of the Supreme Court. All that flips back to the Senate; they put the judges on there."

Currently, her campaign site is lacking specifics in terms of her stances on LGBTQ issues, something Reese told the B.A.R. she and her team are working to add to it. She noted that her policy positions on income inequality and access to health care both encompass the needs of LGBTQ individuals, in particular the need for transgender people to have access to gender-affirming care.

"Something I would enshrine in the form of health care is care that supports and affirms everyone, not just some people," said Reese, adding she would fight for various nondiscrimination laws and stronger family medical leave policies. "Everything that keeps people, especially women, people of color and LGBTQ-plus, out of the workforce by allowing discriminatory policies are things I would stand against. And I would stand for a thriving families bill that enables people to participate fully from whatever intersections they are coming from."

Reese said she would push for passage of the Equality Act, the omnibus LGBTQ rights federal law that has been stalled in one or both congressional chambers for years. She also told the B.A.R. she would push back against the conservative right's latest slogan of "parental rights" in attacking pro-LGBTQ policies.

"All anti-equality measures hold families back, hold the economy back, and are actually destabilizing democracy," said Reese.

In discussing her support for the LGBTQ community, Reese recounted how just days after giving birth in 2009, she and her husband marched with their newborn in the New York City Pride parade.

"I feel like why don't people march? Why wouldn't you march to support those who are not being represented," responded Reese when asked why the couple decided to join the parade so soon after she had given birth.

Over the years Reese told the B.A.R. that she has routinely participated in Pride parades. Should she be elected to the Senate, she pledged to be a vocal supporter for the LGBTQ community.

"It is against everything in my being to think by oppressing others we are somehow going to make a better world," said Reese. "It is a vocal, well-funded minority with oppressive ideas about race, gender and sexual orientation that has to be disrupted. These dangerous ideas are literally killing people."

Reese will take part in a talk Tuesday, September 19, about the impact of artificial intelligence on the jobs market at the gay-owned Manny's in San Francisco's Mission district. For tickets to the event that runs from 6 to 8 p.m. click here.

To learn more about Reese and her platform, visit her campaign website at lexireese.com.

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 the pending change in leadership of the California state Senate.

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]

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.