Bay Area Councilwoman Seeks Reelection Despite Relentless Antigay Attacks

The vice mayor of Richmond, Calif. fields weekly verbal attacks due to her sexual orientation and race, but carries on in public service.

BY Daniel Reynolds

August 07 2014 4:00 PM ET

Jovanka Beckles

Despite enduring repeated verbal attacks at City Council meetings due to her sexual orientation, a San Francisco Bay Area councilwoman has announced that she will run for reelection.

Jovanka Beckles, a black Latina lesbian who is vice mayor of Richmond, Calif., has been targeted for her race and sexual orientation since being elected to the City Council in 2004.

Hecklers frequently come to council meetings to lob these insults in front of the public and other council members, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

“I'm going to keep coming up here and tell you how gays have no morality,” Mark Wassman, one of the antigay attendees, said at a recent meeting. “You're filth. You're dirt. Because I have the constitutional right to say it.”

Beckles, who was born to Caribbean parents in Panama, does not identify as African-American due to this background, a fact that has drawn the ire of hecklers as well as a fellow council member, Corky Boozé, who stokes the fires of this rhetoric.

“She says she's a black Latina. Well, you're either African-American or you're not," Boozé said. “If she's really black, then why does she throw black people out of City Council chambers for speaking their mind? She just says she's black around election time.”

“She's got a short fuse," he said. “Some people don't care for her lifestyle. I don't care for it myself, but she takes that in a homophobic way. I'm not homophobic — my ex-wife is a lesbian.”

Although normally cool and collected under fire, Beckles, who is a mental health counselor to at-risk youth, has on at least one occasion responded to this hate. Last month, she told a man who was hurling antigay slurs at her to “get the fuck out of my face.” A fellow council member, Tom Butt, deemed the response justifiable.

“I thought that was totally appropriate,” he said. “They never leave her alone. She puts up with a hell of a lot more than I would.”

Buckles, who has a son and is married to a partner of 14 years, is still committed to public service, announcing that she will run for reelection in order to continue her work to improve her city.

“We're making big strides,” she said, noting increases in jobs and green spaces in the past few years. “I think things will eventually change for the better in this city, and, in the end, that's a cause I think is worth fighting for. It's worth putting up with all this other stuff.”

Tags: Politics, People

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