San Diego honors Assemblyman Tom AmmianoFeature Story Thursday, September 29th, 2011
The San Diego Democratic Club is honoring Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) with the club’s A. Brad Truax Human Rights Award at this year’s Freedom Awards, Oct. 1.
Ammiano has been a mover and a shaker in the Bay Area’s LGBT community for decades. With the help of his friend Harvey Milk, his first accomplishment was the successful “No on 6” campaign to defeat the 1978 Briggs Initiative that would have banned all LGBT teachers from work in California’s public schools. He has been a teacher, comedian, civil rights leader, educator supervisor and now state assemblyman.
“Just about every piece of historic legislation we’ve seen in the last decade in San Francisco has Ammiano’s fingerprints all over it,” the Bay Area Reporter has written about Ammiano. His most recent work is the authoring of Seth’s Law, which will require all California School Districts to adopt anti-bullying policies.
With Patti Lapone playing in the background, Ammiano took time from his busy schedule to discuss his passions and what the Freedom Awards mean to him.
San Diego LGBT Weekly: What inspired you to get involved in politics?
Tom Ammiano: Probably, my career as a teacher showed me there were a lot of political issues that the school district did not know how to deal with – LGBT issues, being one of them, but it was more than that. I turned to the community, and then turned to politics because that was … where you can affect change.
That happened in partnership with the gay movement here in San Francisco and the advent of Harvey Milk. The whole Bay Area was alive with causes and demonstrations – anti-war, feminism, civil rights, LGBT and disco. Let’s not forget about disco. I can do all that without even blinking. I could teach, then maybe picket something and then go out and dance.
What inspires you now as a politician?
I think some of the changes that we’ve been successful with recently. If you look at the ’40s till now – I think of the ’40s because that’s when I popped out – we’ve really been on an accelerated course. There has been a learning curve there, too: We can’t be overconfident, we are still a community with a lot of resilience, and the old message from Harvey to reach out to others.
I am more than a gay politician, my colleagues too, we have so many other interests that people don’t automatically think is a singular LGBT issue – like housing and health, and if you look at the legislative packages, there is a breadth there. I like that a lot.
We did the Gay Pride floor ceremony this year. That had been controversial the first couple of years with the Republicans picking up their skirts and walking out. This year went a lot smoother. The heads of the other caucuses stood up; the African American caucus, the API caucus, the women’s caucus and Latino caucus all spoke eloquently around the LGBT floor ceremony and the people we were honoring. That inspired me because that has not always been the case.
On your legislative Web site, it lists more than 20 causes that you are advocating.
It’s ADD. ADD is perfect for politics.
We don’t have enough space in the newsmagazine to cover all of the issues. So, what two or three are on the top of your list?
Absolutely Seth’s Law, which is the anti-bullying bill. That is primary.
I have another one that I am very supportive of. It’s about domestic workers rights, the people who work in our homes and provide services, but in the shadows because they are not documented or because there is no place to go. They are the last frontier of those that need to be covered by labor laws. That is one that we have been very concerned with.
When I talk about immigration and its importance to the gay community, some people say, “I don’t understand. How is that?” Well, obviously there are a lot of gay people in every community, documented or undocumented, and then we have a lot of couples where one is not a citizen. Plus, just that other message, the Milk message, there are some parallels with the LGBT struggle.
There is another issue. It’s the gay blood issue. Gay men cannot donate blood based on all the homosexual panic that came out of the ’70s and ’80s. (The policy) is just rank with discrimination. We’re really urging the feds to repeal this.
What past legislation makes you proud?
We worked a lot on foster care. We actually got those not vetoed by Schwarzenegger. We’re very, very proud of those.
Again, that’s reaching into another area. It’s separate but not. LGBT kids are a big part of the foster care system. There are a lot of services to them that are lacking.
What I like the most is when you do the double whammy. You’re really addressing, in this case, the issue of foster care, and you’re also standing up for the LGBT population within that. It’s very gratifying.
The other side of that question, is there anything you would go back and do differently?
Probably. In the capitol, personal relationships mean a lot. Your time is really fragmented, you’re there only a certain amount of time, and it gets intensely busy. While I have many colleagues and friends there, I think really developing those in a stronger manner would be a good thing. The trouble is the term limits. There is not a lot of institutional history and relationships don’t get a chance to develop.
I work really well with Toni (Atkins, assemblywoman from San Diego). I am very happy to have her here. She is a class act. Actually, she is standing behind me with a gun making me say that.
You’re creating great segues into my list of questions. My next question is about your sense of humor. You’ve been credited as being a stand-up comic. What do you find funny?
Pretty much everything.
There is the comic aspect and the irony aspect. I find a lot of humor in politics and the contradictions and the hyperbole. When I did stand up, Reagan and Bush were presidents, so I found a lot of fodder there.
Also, I find a lot of humor in our own community. I love their perspective on things.
What does this award you are receiving in San Diego mean to you?
It means a lot to me. It says you are being heard, and the communities are not isolated from each other. I think a girl likes to be recognized, whether she gets asked to the dance or not. So, it’s very pleasing.
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