San Mateo County's new Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Commission will be among the first of its kind in California.
Supervisors Dave Pine and Adrienne Tissier co-sponsored the resolution to create the commission, and Pine said their research revealed that, with the exception of the LGBT Advisory Committee to San Francisco's Human Rights Commission, no other city or county in the state has an LGBTQ commission.
Pine said the Board of Supervisors' recent vote to create the commission was the culmination of a process started by Stanford University student Jason Galisatus, who approached him with the idea earlier this year.
Galisatus said his own experiences pointed to the need for such a commission. As a student at Aragon High School in San Mateo, Galisatus said he was subjected to anti-gay epithets from some schoolmates when he organized a campus protest against California's gay marriage ban in 2008.
Bullying and harassment in schools is one of many issues that can affect the well-being of LGBT residents of San Mateo County, Galisatus said, and it's one of the things he hopes to see the commission address. Acknowledging that, unlike San Francisco, San Mateo County has no physical center for its LGBT community, Galisatus said the commission might consider creating an LGBT community meeting space.
Bay Area-based transgender activist Anna Farrows expressed skepticism, saying many in the transgender community feel "mainstream" LGBT organizations don't adequately represent them. But according to Galisatus, appointing commission members who belong to underserved segments of the LGBT community, including transgender people, seniors and people of color, will be a priority.
"The [LGBT] community can do a lot for our transgender brothers and sisters," Galisatus said. "We promised to come back after the fight for marriage equality and address the issues affecting transgender people, and we need to keep that promise."
Galisatus added that homelessness, hate crimes, and employment and housing discrimination remain "huge" problems for many in the transgender community.
Making sure the commission reflects the diversity within the LGBT community was one of several ideas put forward by the 12-person working group that advised the Board of Supervisors on creating the commission. According to Pine, the addition of the letter Q to the more common LGBT in the commission's name was another suggestion from the working group, acknowledging those who identify as "queer," yet feel they don't fit into the more commonly recognized LGBT categories.
Pine said the Board of Supervisors will recruit nine people to serve on the commission, and has already received several applications. He said he expects the commission to be up and running by September. Pine noted that according to the Williams Institute, a UCLA Law think tank, approximately 13 percent of the estimated 1,970 same-sex couples in San Mateo County are raising children.
He said the commission might explore possible initiatives to help LGBT parents and their kids. Pine said he also expects the commission to address the challenges faced by LGBT seniors. He added that seniors in general are often isolated, and this can be especially true for gay seniors.
Pine said the creation of the commission reflects a larger trend toward inclusiveness in San Mateo, and he noted that the county hosted its second annual Pride celebration Saturday, June 14.