People in the LGBT community first got to know the name “Garcetti” when Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti appointed a lesbian to head up the new Hate Crimes unit. A lesbian Deputy DA best known for prosecuting murderers – Carla Arranaga – took over shortly thereafter as Garcetti expanded the Hate Crimes Unit. Arranaga networked with targeted and vulnerable community organizations around LA County, bringing that expertise to Washington DC in 1997 as a participant in the first White House conference on Hate Crimes. When Gil Garcetti lost his re-election to Republican Steve Cooley, the Hate Crimes Unit slowly disappeared, as did the visibility of LGBT people in the DA’s office. But just as Gil Garcetti was finding a new life as a professional photographer, his son Eric appeared and quickly seemed to claim the LGBT community as his second family. He’s been family ever since. Here’s a story I wrote for Frontiers – but please go to ericgarcetti.com for more info on his stands on other issues.
L.A Mayoral Candidate Eric Garcetti, an Activist on LGBT Rights
Reporting on a Feb. 7 Hollywood fundraiser for Los Angeles Councilmember Eric Garcetti in his race to become L.A.’s next mayor, L.A. Observed’s Kevin Roderick said Garcetti’s “years of blogging, posting on social media … make him seem like the cool guy candidate.” The L.A. Times’ Michael Finnegan detailed Garcetti’s cultural competency, writing that the candidate “prides himself on his ease with the city’s diverse cultures. He sees his mixed ancestry (“I have an Italian last name, and I’m half-Mexican and half-Jewish,” he says) as a powerful part of his appeal in a city where voters for decades have split along racial and ethnic lines in mayoral elections.”
Unmentioned so far is Garcetti’s deep relationship with the LGBT community. But the LGBT vote could matter greatly in the March 5 municipal election primary. Turnout is expected to be so low, some politicos speculate that an insignificant progressive vote will be split among Garcetti, his chief rival L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilmember Jan Perry to propel gay conservative Republican attorney and radio talk show host Kevin James into the run-off.
But while it’s doubtful the LGBT electorate will vote for James simply because he’s gay, LGBT voters are expected to turn out to advance a bevy of gay candidates for City Council seats and City Controller.
For years, Garcetti has been ubiquitous in the LGBT community. But his commitment goes back further than imagined.
“I kind of cut my teeth as an activist working on issues of equality and civil rights,” Garcetti told Frontiers in a Feb. 13 phone interview. “When I was in college in New York, I worked with ACT UP. I was the leader of a group called the National Students Coalition Against Harassment, which was a nationwide student organization dealing with hate crimes—sexism, homophobia and racism on college campuses. In some ways, I started my work as a political activist around issues of human rights and taught human rights as a professor. I headed up the Young Advocates for Human Rights Watch, worked for the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights dealing with issues of homophobia. Back then, that was more of what we were dealing with than the issue of equality.
“In England, when I was a Rhodes Scholar, I was active in human rights work for the LGBT community there—the age of consent, issues of same-sex partner benefits, education access for gay teachers and other things like that in my time at Oxford. So no matter where I’ve been, it’s been a strong current of my work and how I evolved as a political activist.”
Among his achievements as a councilmember, Garcetti designated The Black Cat and The Mattachine Steps as historic landmarks, and in 2002 expanded the Equal Benefits Ordinance to cover the airport, the port and the Department of Water and Power, requiring them to give equal benefits to same-sex partners for their employees before they could get a city contract. “That was a huge piece of legislation,” Garcetti said.
Garcetti also promises to implement the California FAIR Education Act. “This is a mandate, and I will speak up and speak out for this to be universally in all of Los Angeles’ schools.”
“I’ve never shied away from a fight. I think I’m somebody who’s always looked at the uncomfortable spaces and places of politics and embraced a good struggle for justice,” Garcetti said. “I’ve made sure the LGBT community is not only always at the table, but that voices we don’t hear within the community are heard—homeless, transgender, poor seniors. The diversity of the LGBT community reflects the diversity of the city, and I think I’m the candidate who best embodies a progressive vision that has also produced results. … We don’t have to make a safe choice in this election. We can make a bold choice, because it’s rooted in somebody who has turned around the kind of heartland of this city—Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park and Atwater Village—and I’ll take that vision citywide.”
Freedom to Marry National Campaign Director Marc Solomon has known Garcetti since 1999 when the two were among the Rockefeller Foundation’s 24 Next Generation of Leaders.
“I’ll never forget Eric’s guidance when many were pressuring us to settle for civil unions in the early days of the fight in Massachusetts. I called him in a moment of real challenge, and Eric reminded me that civil unions were just a legal agreement but that marriage was about love. ‘Fight for love,’ he urged me. After Eric offered those words, I’ve never once turned back,” Solomon told Frontiers. “For the 15 years I’ve known Eric, full equality for every aspect of our LGBT community has always been a core priority and value. … Eric will fight hard until every member of our community is fully respected under law, and he will amplify that voice nationwide. I cannot imagine a better person to be mayor of any great American city.”