Political Notebook: Record number of bi women seeks CA legislative seats

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday January 31, 2024
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Bisexual women running for state legislative seats this year include Marisol Rubio, left, Sasha Renée Pérez, and Sade Elhawary. Photos: Courtesy the candidates
Bisexual women running for state legislative seats this year include Marisol Rubio, left, Sasha Renée Pérez, and Sade Elhawary. Photos: Courtesy the candidates

With a record number of bisexual women seeking legislative seats in 2024, California could see its first bi female legislators come December when the winners of the fall races take their oaths of office. To date, the only bi member of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus has been Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose), who is seeking a third two-year term this year.

There are at least 30 LGBTQ individuals, 12 of whom are women, running for either an Assembly or Senate seat on the March 5 primary ballot, where the top two vote-getters regardless of party advance to the general election. It marks the largest group of out legislative candidates to run in the Golden State based on records kept by the Bay Area Reporter.

Among them are six female candidates who identify as bisexual. With two running for the same open Assembly seat in Southern California, the most that could win is five.

"I think it's reflective of how many more queer women are stepping up to run," said lesbian Los Angeles resident Michelle Atwood, who last July became the political director for LPAC, the national political action committee focused on electing more queer women and gender-nonconforming candidates to office. "It is really exciting, specifically to see this many bisexual women stepping up to run in California."

One of the candidates, San Ramon City Councilmember Marisol Rubio, is running for the open Senate District 9 seat in Contra Costa County. As one of just two candidates in the race, she is assured of advancing to the November 5 ballot.

Having secured LPAC's endorsement, Rubio is campaigning for the first time as an out candidate. She did not publicly identify as bi when she first sought the Senate seat in 2020 against Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), who is termed out this year, or when she sought her council seat in 2022.

In a recent interview with the B.A.R., Rubio, 50, said she came out personally at age 18. But, after becoming a single mom to a child with various health challenges, she put her dating life on hold. That is until last year, when her daughter enrolled at UC Davis.

"It was not something I was really engaged in. I wasn't dating; I wasn't tapping into that part of my life," explained Rubio, who acknowledged running for office as a bi woman "is a really interesting phenomenon" because it is "hard for a lot of people to understand."

She told the B.A.R. she wants to have those conversations with voters in the legislative district, not just about being bisexual but also gender-nonconforming and demisexual, in order to break through people's stereotypes. Rubio also wants to help support LGBTQ youth, who are increasingly coming under attack by conservative leaders, via her candidacy.

"I think we have been lacking representation in our state Legislature and especially in Contra Costa County," said Rubio, who could become one of the first LGBTQ state legislators elected from the county. "I think breaking that glass ceiling, especially in Contra Costa County, is going to be critical for creating a bench for our community going forward and ensuring we are creating a path for people to move up. That has not been the case, historically, here."

One other bi woman is seeking an open Senate seat, Sasha Renée Pérez. She is one of five candidates running in the 25th Senate District spanning Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

Bisexual Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege is again seeking the Assembly District 47 seat, having narrowly lost in 2022 to Assemblymember Greg Wallis (R-Bermuda Dunes). He is now defending his seat this year.

Two bi women, Dulce Vasquez and Sade Elhawary, are among the five candidates running for the open Assembly District 57 seat in Los Angeles County. Elhawary, who prefers the term "fluid" when it comes to her sexual orientation, told the B.A.R. it wasn't something she thought about highlighting when she launched her campaign last year.

There are no LGBTQ neighborhoods in the 57th Assembly District. Plus, when she was recruited by the group Close the Gap, aimed at electing more women to state legislative seats, to run it was more to do with her being a Black and Latina community leader, said Elhawary, living in a district with a large Black and Latino population.

She later came to realize how significant it would be seeing a candidate who identifies as a part of the bi community to win election to the seat.

"We are opening up our government, in this case, to have more representation in a way we need and deserve," said Elhawary, 36, a native of Los Angeles who now lives in the city's University Park neighborhood.

In the race for the open 58th Assembly District seat, bisexual Riverside City Councilmember Clarissa Cervantes is vying to succeed her older sister, lesbian Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona), a married mom seeking the open Senate District 31 seat this year.

LPAC dual endorsed Vasquez and Elhawary in their contest, and also has endorsed Holstege, Pérez, and both Cervantes siblings. Come November, LPAC is hopeful of seeing one or more of the bi female candidates make history.

"I definitely think there is a great chance for that," said Atwood.

Other out candidates

The other out female legislative candidates include transgender Palm Springs City Councilmember Lisa Middleton, who is running against state Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa) for the 19th Senate District seat spanning Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and former "Amazing Race" TV show contestant Dom Jones, a Black queer Orange County resident running against Assemblymember Diane Dixon (R-Newport Beach) for her 72nd District seat.

In Northern California AC Transit board member Jovanka Beckles and union leader Kathryn Lybarger, who both identify as queer and lesbian, are seeking the open Senate District 7 seat that spans Alameda and Contra Costa counties. LPAC endorsed Lybarger, Middleton, and Rosanna Herber, a lesbian elected member of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District who is one of 10 candidates running for the open Assembly District 6 seat.

That Sacramento contest also features gay candidates Carlos Marquez III, a Democrat, and Preston Romero, a Republican. Also in the race is Democrat Evan Minton, a trans man and former legislative staffer. He and Middleton are vying to become the first trans members of the state Legislature.

Gay male Democratic incumbents Assemblymembers Corey A. Jackson, Ph.D., (Perris), Chris Ward (San Diego), and Rick Chavez Zbur (Santa Monica/West Hollywood), along with Senators Scott Wiener (San Francisco) and John Laird (Santa Cruz), are all seeking reelection this year.

Looking to join Lee as the second bisexual man serving in the statehouse is Hawthorne City Councilmember Alex Monteiro, one of eight candidates running for the open Senate District 35 seat in Los Angeles County. Monteiro and Beckles would be the first out Black members of the state Senate if elected this year. (Jackson's 2022 victory made him the first out Black member elected to the Legislature.)

Gay former West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon is seeking the open Senate District 3 seat that includes portions of the four most northern Bay Area counties. In Orange County gay Iranian Alex Mohajer is one of 10 candidates running for the Senate District 17 seat against state Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who was redistricted into it in 2021.

Six gay men are vying for open Southern California Assembly seats, with two in the San Diego area. Democratic veteran Joseph Rocha is running in Assembly District 76, and Republican former San Diego city councilman Carl DeMaio is doing so in Assembly District 75.

The other four candidates are seeking Los Angeles County seats, with Lynwood City Councilman José Luis Solache running in Assembly District 62 and Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez running in Assembly District 54. Immigrants Ari Ruiz and Javier Hernandez are running, respectively, in Assembly District 52 and Assembly District 53.

The LGBTQ caucus endorsed all seven of its members running this year. It also is backing Senate candidates Cabaldon, Lybarger, Pérez, and Middleton in their primary races. The 12-member affinity group for out legislators also endorsed Assembly candidates Cervantes, Gonzalez, Hernandez, Holstege, Rocha, Ruiz, and Solache in their March 5 contests.

Despite three of the caucus members departing this year, two due to term limits and one running for a U.S. House seat, its vice chair Ward told the B.A.R. in December he expects it could have at least 15 members, if not more, following the November election results. He is pleased to see so many out candidates running this year from so many different regions of the state.

"It used to be we had a handful of people running in urban centers," noted Ward, set to become the next LGBTQ caucus chair. "We should be proud that out candidates can run in rural and suburban districts of California. It reflects that LGBTQ Californians live everywhere in the state."

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 surprising early endorsement made by Latino LGBTQ political group HONOR PAC.

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]

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