On June 3, 2014, San Mateo County made history when it became the first California county to create a purely lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) commission.
Most cities and counties usually fold their LGBTQ commission into a broader Human Rights Commission. However, our county leaders decided to specifically recognize the sexual minority community, an often-underrepresented group.
As someone who came out as a gay man to his parents at age 16 during the mid-1980s, I can relate to the thousands of LGBTQ youth who struggle against peer and family pressures to conform to a largely heterosexist society. I recall the widespread anti-gay bullying during my elementary and high school years. I had friends who were physically assaulted in college and were hospitalized — just for being openly gay. I heard numerous stories of teenagers being disowned by their parents for being gay, some of them even ending up on the streets homeless.
According to national statistics, 90 percent of LGBTQ youth have been verbally bullied because of their sexual orientation, with over half being cyberbullied. In a related and more sobering statistic, approximately 30 percent of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide.
However, this type of harassment is not limited to youth. Many LGBTQ seniors in our local community feel forced “back into the closet” because of harassment in nursing homes and elder care facilities. This must stop, and one way to stop it is by creating an environment of acceptance and equality.
A countywide LGBTQ commission will have the ability to recommend policies and legislation; work to ensure that county residents are treated fairly and equitably; and help educate the broader community about issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
I thank the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors for their bold and visionary action to create an LGBTQ Commission — which now takes its place alongside other county boards and commissions such as the Commission on the Status of Women and Commission on Aging.
I also want to thank the small group of tireless individuals, known as the LGBT Commission Working Group, for working behind-the-scenes to build broad community support that led to the creation of this historic LGBTQ commission.
After the Board of Supervisors establishes the selection criteria and process, it will be up to county residents to apply.
As one of only a few openly-gay elected officials in our county, I strongly encourage our LGBT leaders to apply for these positions because serving on this commission will only make our collective voices stronger.
We have a duty to take our rightful place at the county table where equality is being served.
Robert Bernardo is the president of the San Mateo County Harbor District Board of Commissioners and a longtime resident of South San Francisco. He is also Filipino-American, openly-gay and Jewish.