The gathering of hundreds of elected officials from the lesbian and gay community in Long Beach this past weekend for the conference of the Victory Fund is a happy occasion. Southern California voters, especially here in L.A. County, have proved hospitable to LGBT candidates of both parties and helped achieve breakthroughs in representation for openly gay leaders.
But a few players in gay politics here recently took stances contrary to well-qualified LGBT Democratic candidates and hampered their ability to win. Assembly Speaker John Perez, state Senator-elect Ricardo Lara, and L.A. County Democratic Party chair Eric Bauman, who works for the Speaker, all joined this year in opposing both Westside Democrat Torie Osborn, seeking to represent the 50th Assembly District, and Luis Lopez, an Eastside Democrat running in my 51st Assembly District.
Both were exceptionally well-prepared and strong gay candidates, but both lost, Osborn in a costly June primary and Lopez in a hard-fought general election after becoming the only LGBT candidate from Southern California who would be new to the legislature to compete in the general election. Instead of making the path of these candidates easier, three gay men in positions to help made their road more difficult. How sad.
The strength of L.A.’s diverse electorate is now pulling the state toward one-party governance, putting a brighter public spotlight on Democratic leaders’ conduct. The power of money also tempts elected and party bosses to ignore the bonds of LGBT solidarity that have historically fueled the success of openly gay candidates. The decision by gay officials to turn away from or turn against our own at election time should face a challenge, lest it become an acceptable pattern of behavior that blocks excellent leaders and weakens our movement.
I know the excuses: Party politics are messy, new district lines shook up the landscape for this election, and deals with competing interest groups get made, with survival and self-interest in mind. Still, there’s no reason L.A. County, with the largest population of LGBT people and families of any single jurisdiction in the country, shouldn’t be sending 4, instead of 2, openly LGBT advocates to Sacramento for swearing-in today.
What lost opportunities, and at what expense! In the Westside district, Speaker Perez amassed scores of delegates and spent a fortune to deny Osborn the Democratic party endorsement. Party machinery then squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to anoint its preferred candidate, only to have an independent Democrat, Santa Monica mayor Richard Bloom, emerge triumphant.
On the Eastside, in my district where I took part in protests 45 years ago that launched the local LGBT freedom movement, I was excited by the prospect of electing Luis Lopez. I have known Lopez for years and admired his mix of elected and appointed community service and leadership in the LGBT community, working to start the first Latino statewide gay political group and fighting Prop 8. But outspent by hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate and union money on behalf of a candidate who just moved into the district, Lopez lost out to a guy who will be the third in a row of recently arrived candidates, now making his debut in our community as … Assemblymember. When machine politics calls the shots, knowledge of one’s district is no requirement for the job.
I support the Victory Fund and am glad they held their conference here in California. And I hope that when Perez, Lara, or Bauman talk to people in the LGBT community, listeners apply the asterisk, indicating that some exceptions may apply when they say “we” and talk about the strength of “our community.”
I am proud of the gains by LGBT candidates in this election. I just wish there were a few more here at home.
Rev. Troy Perry is founder of the Universal Fellowship of the Metropolitan Community Church in 1968 and a plaintiff in the marriage cases seeking full recognition for thousands of committed same-sex couples under California law, including his own union, with husband Phillip De Blieck.