Elected officials speak at LGBTQ+ political engagement panel

Vanessa Lim/Staff

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An LGBTQ+ political engagement panel was held Tuesday night in Eshleman Hall in which LGBTQ+ elected officials discussed their experiences with political engagement.

Alex Randolph, Janice Li, Lisa Middleton, Scott Wiener and Shay Franco-Clausen spoke on the panel. They shared their journeys to election as well as stories of discrimination faced. About 30 people attended to listen. The event consisted of introductions and a Q&A portion, which ASUC Senator Romario moderated and then opened to the audience.

Many of the speakers broke barriers to reach their positions. Middleton is a transportation commissioner of Riverside County and the first transgender person elected to a nonjudicial office in California.

“I like to tell folks that I am the typical person who’s in her 60s, who’s a transgender lesbian, who runs for political office her first time, gets establishment support, raises more money than anyone else and wins in a landslide,” Middleton said.

Franco-Clausen, director of the District 5 Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority and 2018 San Jose City Council candidate, decided to run for City Council because there had never been a lesbian woman of color to run in San Jose’s history. 

Li, who represents the eighth district on the BART Board of Directors, said there has never been a woman in her seat in the board’s existence. She also said there have been very few Asian people on the board, and never an Asian woman.

Although the speakers described great political strides they have made, they also explained the discrimination they faced along the way.

“My district is very conservative, and they let me know real quick that my gay agenda, and my black Puerto Rican gay agenda, was not welcome. My house was vandalized, my car was vandalized,” Franco-Clausen said.  “But you know what I said? I’m gonna keep walking with my beautiful brown skin, with my gay agenda in my hand, because that’s the only way that you make change, when you make people uncomfortable.”

Randolph, the board trustee president of the City College of San Francisco, expressed the difficultly of running as openly gay, even in San Francisco. In some communities, Randolph was told that if he wanted votes he should stay in the closet and not talk about his partner, the “gay agenda” or his lifestyle.

The speakers discussed some of the large projects they have worked on, but also emphasized that their best experiences in office were often characterized by seeing change in the quality of individual lives.

“To me, the only reason to run for office is to make people’s lives better,” California State Sen. Scott Wiener said. Wiener is also chair of the California LBGT Legislative Caucus.

Middleton, having faced discrimination herself as a transgender woman, wanted to remedy the problem when it was brought to her attention that the deaf community in her town felt discriminated against. She said there were many public events which had no interpreters, and therefore no one for them to communicate with. Middleton made an effort to reach that community and make them feel welcome.

Several of the panelists spoke to the importance of staying true to identity and not letting others prevent you from becoming politically engaged, emphasizing the fight against discrimination.

“Still be the person that you want to be … and fly your LGBT rainbow flag, because that is the only way you can actually impact change and stop discrimination happening,” Randolph said.

Contact Taylor Rudman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @TaylorRudman.