California Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, already facing allegations of sexual harassment, is being criticized by fellow Democrats after her recent admission that she's used homophobic language.
Last Thursday on The California Report,a program of San Francisco public broadcaster KQED, an interviewer asked Garcia if she'd ever used slurs such as "faggot" or "homo" in the presence of her staff, as has been alleged.
"I don't use the word 'faggot,'" she replied. "It's not in my vocabulary. Have I at some point used the word 'homo'? Yeah, I've used that word 'homo.' I don't know that I've used it in derogatory context."
"What has been presented to me is this question of whether these words were used in a professional setting, and whether they made people uncomfortable," the interviewer responded, then pressed her on whether she'd used "homo" to describe former Assembly Speaker John Perez, the first openly gay man to hold that position.
"I can't remember, but I wouldn't be surprised if I used that word," Garcia said. "Right? So I think that that's fair. I think terms like 'faggot' are period derogatory. There's no good way to use that word. I think a term like 'homo' can also be derogatory, right? I'm not going to sit here and pretend I'm an angel. Was I using those as derogatory terms? No. It's almost like I would say I'm a brown person sometimes." She said she often uses "candid language," but only "in places where you think you're in a safe space and you could speak your mind and be vocal."
She added, "I try to be open and accepting of all communities, including the LGBT community, and I think you could look at my voting record, look at the advocacy I've been doing well before I was elected in conjunction not just with the LGBT community, but with communities that have been marginalized."
Some California Democrats are now calling out Garcia, saying her use of "homo" is definitely derogatory. Los Angeles County Democratic Party chair Mark Gonzalez released this statement Tuesday: "Assemblymember Garcia's comments regarding the homophobic language she used to refer to openly gay members of the Assembly were offensive, to say the least. The fact that Ms. Garcia justified using homophobic language is a poor defense for actions taken as an adult and leader in the community. She has stood behind the LGBT community in her record as a legislator, but as a leader of California, Assemblymember Garcia and all elected officials need to show that they walk the talk. Language contrary to what one has a history of standing up for has a chilling effect on staff and on the community. Any language that is derogatory or inflammatory is unacceptable."
Perez told PoliticoGarcia was trying to "rationalize" her language with her "safe spaces" comment. "To use homophobic language," no matter the context, is wrong "not because it's hurtful to me, but because of the message that it sends to young staffers ... especially those who haven't publicly come out," he said.
David John Kernick, a former Garcia staffer, also spoke to Politico, saying Garcia's assertion that she never said "faggot" was "a bald-faced lie." He said he heard her use both "faggot" and "homo" often, "distinctly about the speaker, but it was also part of her regular vocabulary."
Assemblyman Evan Low, chair of the Legislative LGBT Caucus, told the Los Angeles Times that Garcia's language "reflects the everyday struggles that our LGBT community faces on a daily basis." Eric Bauman, who chairs the California Democratic Party, also condemned her use of slurs, calling it "unacceptable."
Late Tuesday, Garcia issued a statement acknowledging she referred to Perez as a "homo" at one point five years ago, the Times reports. She said she did so "in a moment of anger," adding, "In no way was my use of that term meant to belittle Mr. Perez for his sexuality." She offered apologies to him "and any member of the LGBTQ community who feels offended by the comment,"
Kernick and another former staffer have accused Garcia of creating a toxic office environment by groping men who worked for her, bragging about her sex life to her staff, and urging her employees to play the kissing game "spin the bottle" after a fundraising event in 2014. Her critics say this amounts to not only misconduct but hypocrisy, as Garcia is a proponent of the #MeToo movement.
Garcia, who represents a district centered on Bell Gardens, near Los Angeles, has denied engaging in such conduct and is on voluntary unpaid leave while the allegations are investigated. She again denied the allegations in the KQED interview, but she admitted to sending "flirty texts," saying, "It's not a crime and it's something that happens in all kinds of settings." It wasn't clear if the texts went to staff members.