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Lesbian Iranian-American Makes History in One of U.S.'s Gayest Cities

Sepi

The LGBTQ+ mecca of West Hollywood has elected two new members to its City Council, including its first queer woman of color, and voted out the two longest-serving ones.

Sepi Shyne, 43, a lesbian Iranian-American, is that first queer woman of color on the council, and she appears to be the first out LGBTQ+ Iranian-American elected to any public office globally. She is a lawyer, business operator, and longtime advocate for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, and she has held appointed positions in West Hollywood. She’s currently on the on the West Hollywood Business License Commission and was previously a member of the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board.

The other new member is John Erickson, a gay man who at 35 will be the youngest person on the council, the Los Angeles Times reports. He’s director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and a member of the West Hollywood Planning Commission.

Elections to the council are held on an at-large basis rather than through districts, meaning voters citywide cast ballots for members. Shyne received the most votes in last week’s election, 7,850, while Erickson was second place with 7,118, so they won the two seats that were up for a vote this year.

They bested two incumbents, both gay men: John Heilman, who’d been on the council, except for a three-month hiatus, ever since West Hollywood incorporated as a city in 1984, and John Duran, a council member since 2001, who had been accused of sexual harassment. Heilman finished third and Duran fifth, behind a newcomer, retail store owner Larry Block. Duran stepped down as mayor last year — the post rotates among council members — but he said it was because of health concerns, not the accusations.

When Shyne and Erickson are sworn in next month, they will join Lindsey Horvath, Lauren Meister, and John D’Amico on the council, which will have a majority of women for the first time, the Times notes.

“People are ready for change, with everything we have gone through, with the social justice movement, the pandemic,” Shyne told the Times. “People have awoken to want evolution on every level.”

Erickson added, “It was time for people who look like me, people my age, to run for office.” He said it’s “bittersweet” to replace Heilman, who appointed him to the planning commission and who he considers “a personal hero.”

Shyne was born in Iran, which her family left a few years after the Islamic revolution of 1979. They settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, and she moved to Los Angeles in 2006. She now lives in WeHo with her wife, Ashlei Shyne, an actress and director.

Erickson is a Wisconsin native who has lived in West Hollywood since 2010. He has served on the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls and says his grandmother influenced him to become a political activist and a feminist.

Both new members have pledged to “prioritize economic recovery amid the pandemic” and “increase protections for renters,” according to the Times.

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