Wednesday, March 23, 2011

CA Sen. Leno has Never Held
a Town Hall for Gays

A friend asked me recently if openly gay state Senator Mark Leno, whose district includes most of San Francisco, has ever held a town hall meeting with the gay community in his capacity as a member of the city's Board of Supervisors, when he was in the state Assembly or in his current political position.

I couldn't recall any public forums with Mark, and I'm not talking about state or city hearings he convened on either legislation or budget issues. We're talking open forums in the gay community, and after extensively searching the web, I found no proof of Mark ever holding town halls.

In numerous calls yesterday with his staffers Anna Damiani, Reese Isbell and messages left for his press secretary Ali Bay, I posed two simple questions. When was the date for the last time Mark held a public forum and what is the date of any future forums. Anna and Reese repeatedly cited the state budget crisis as taking up their boss's time, implying the crisis, which is longstanding and not going away any day in the near future, prevents Mark from holding forums.

Ali sent this message late Tuesday afternoon:

Senator Leno has participated in town halls that were designed for all the constituents of Senate District 3, and he also interfaces with the LGBT community through legislative activities, public and private events, personal meetings and the media. This year, he is the author of two bills that would help strengthen existing rights and protections for LGBT people. As Anna has shared with you, Senator Leno is currently focused on the state’s budget crisis. We will let you know when we plan any future town halls.

Not a single date is provided and I'm not sure why Ali mentions the two bills that have nothing to do with town halls.

For comparison's sake, let's look at Congresswoman Jackie Speier's track record on gay town halls. The Inside, Looking Out blog reported on Speier's general town hall in May 2009 in which gay immigration issues came up. According to the Bay Area Reporter, she held a forum at SF's gay center on August 31, 2009, open to all, and a similar event on June 26, 2010, at a church.

If a Bay Area Congresswoman can hold two gay open forums and other town halls, why can't Mark do likewise? Permit to further say that Speier's forums are organized by her and not gay Democratic Party groups, and Mark should not wait for any such group to host a forum on his behalf. He needs to follow Speier's great example.

He can make time to show up at the February 12, 2011, gala at SF City Hall for Equality California where the tickets were priced at $350, and pose for pix like the one above.

Mark was able to make the Human Rights Campaign pricey-dinner at the Fairmount hotel on October 24, 2010. I believe he regularly attends all EQCA and HRC dinners, if I'm wrong about this, I'll publish a correction.

My point is that Mark is available very frequently for social galas and the like for EQCA and HRC, two groups that don't hold regular town halls with the gay community, showing there is disturbing common ground of non-engagement with regular gays who are not big donors or Democratic Party hacks.

To be fair, I must acknowledge that Mark has also shown up at street rallies, including one I helped organize on May 17, 2009, at Harvey Milk Plaza on behalf of gay Iraqis, and he and his staff have been helpful with statements and proclamations on many crucial global gay issues. For these favors, I have expressed my thanks.

But Mark and his staff should build upon his appearances a A-gay fundraisers and activist protests, and get with the town hall agenda already, and stop using the state budget issues as a lame excuse for avoiding forums.

Is it coincidence or collusion or something else that prevents Mark, EQCA and HRC from democratic public forums? Why are these entities unable to put on regular open meetings? This fear of using town halls create much distrust, unnecessary divisions and betrays weakness on the part of Mark and Gay Inc.

I look forward to Mark Leno's first gay town hall, which I hope is scheduled in the next month or so, and that the forums become regular events.

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