San Mateo County will become the first in California to establish a commission specifically focused on the LGBTQ community under a proposal coming before the Board of Supervisors.
Although many cities and counties have broader Human Rights Commissions that include the concerns of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning individuals and families, none have one more narrowly addressing that community. On Tuesday, the county may lead the way if the board approves the request of supervisors Dave Pine and Adrienne Tissier to establish such a body.
“I was very surprised there doesn’t appear to be anything like this in California although we did find examples in other parts of the country,” Pine said. “This community has made so much progress it’s a good time to build on that momentum by providing a forum to continue it.”
Such a commission will promote inclusivity, provide a resource for future policy decisions and serve as a model for cities and counties statewide, Pine said.
The commission was the idea of Jason Galisatus, the former executive director of Bay Area Youth Summit, who floated it to Pine’s staff first and is now thrilled to see it come to fruition.
“I am very excited this is happening,” said Galisatus, who hopes it sends a message that LGBTQ people are part of communities everywhere and deserve equitable representation.
“People have always known LGBT people are in this county but we never had a centralized body. This is something that is greatly needed and it has been for a long time,” Galisatus said.
Jeffrey Adair, president of the Peninsula Stonewall Democratic Club, who helped develop the proposed commission, said the growing demographics of same-sex households make a commission necessary much as already existing commissions like those for aging and women.
There are an estimated 1,970 same-sex couples living in San Mateo County and 13 percent of those couples are raising children, according to the 2010 census.
“Yes this is a very liberal county in a lot of ways but because of that we sometimes get a little complacent about making sure that everybody’s concerns are being heard and their rights are being looked after,” Adair said.
A working group of more than a dozen LGBTQ community leaders began working in February to craft a commission, including a survey that found outreach to vulnerable populations like youth and seniors is among the most important issues for it to address. Others include reducing harassment, promoting transgender inclusion such as access to gender-specific spaces like restrooms and shelters and taking positions on government policies, programs and legislation.
If approved, the commission will have nine voting members appointed to three-year terms by the Board of Supervisors. Initial terms though will be staggered with four members serving two-year terms to avoid everybody’s time expiring simultaneously. The commission will meet at least six times annually and create a yearly work plan.
The commission will also support events like the upcoming county pride celebration in San Mateo’s Central Park.
On Tuesday, the board is expected to declare June 2014 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Two Spirit Pride Month. Two spirit people is a term used in some Native American tribes to describe gender-variant members and those who believe they have both a male and female spirit in the same body.
Although the month designation includes three extra categories, Pine and Adair both said the commission opted for the shorter acronym.
“At this point we are very, very new so we’re trying to stay at a point people can wrap their minds around,” Adair said. “Those other letters are a little daunting for some people so we decided to keep it simple for now although that’s not to say the commission bylaws can’t be changed later.”
The Board of Supervisors meets 9 a.m. Tuesday, June 3 in Board Chambers, 400 Government Center, Redwood City.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102