Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Political Notebook: Equality Federation welcomes new executive director


Rebecca Isaacs hopes to facilitate the growth of state-based equality groups. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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The hiring of Rebecca Isaacs as the new executive director of the Equality Federation is a coming home of sorts for the former San Francisco resident and graduate of UC Hastings College of the Law.

Isaacs first worked with the federation of state LGBT organizations in 1997 in her capacity as political director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. At the time, the umbrella group for agencies working on LGBT issues at the state level was a project associated with the task force.

Now the federation is its own entity, and Isaacs officially took over leadership of the organization Tuesday, January 18. One of her first duties will be representing the Equality Federation at the task force's National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. The annual confab, now in its 23rd year, will be held in Minneapolis February 2-6.

"The task force provided backup and support until the Equality Federation formed its own separate 501(c)3," explained Isaacs, who left the task force in 2000.

While mingling with LGBT leaders from across the country, Isaacs will not only have a chance to introduce herself in her new role but will also be gathering information about what assistance she and her staff, currently two employees, can provide the leaders of various statewide LGBT groups.

Isaacs, 55, has been hired specifically to help facilitate the growth and organizational strength of state-based equality groups. She will oversee a budget of $1 million and her starting salary is $150,000.

"The goal is to take the Equality Federation to the next level so we have the ability and the resources to make even more of a difference in the states," said Isaacs, who is succeeding founding executive director Toni Broaddus. "I want us to have a bigger voice and visibility."

Isaacs would like to increase the federation's funding, which partly comes from grants, foundations, and fees paid by the state groups, the amount of which is weighted by their size. And not every state is represented in the federation, said Isaacs, something she plans to work on.

"A few states don't have their own organizations," she said. "One of the big goals and reason why the Equality Federation exists is to help the state organizations share best practices and expertise."

Two of the strongest state groups in the federation are Equality California and New York's Empire State Pride Agenda. Unlike in those two states, where the Legislatures and governors are particularly gay-friendly, other groups are facing anti-gay backlashes this year, such as fights over same-sex marriage in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

"There are states that are facing a more hostile atmosphere," said Isaacs, adding that one of her first tasks is determining which state groups will need the most help over the next few years in defending LGBT laws or blocking anti-gay legislative efforts.

"Often it is easier to pass legislation at the state level," she said. "I think we can continue to make progress even in tough times. We will continue to play some defense, but more than anything, we want to be proactive and hold on to the gains we have made."

Isaacs lives in Santa Monica and plans to telecommute with the federation's staffers, who work out of rented office space near Union Square in San Francisco. She plans to visit the city often and has strong ties to the Bay Area.

Isaacs and her wife, Vanessa Schwartz , met 20 years ago while she attended law school and Schwartz earned a graduate degree in history at UC Berkeley.

Their 15-year-old daughter, Rachel Schwartz , spent last summer studying with the San Francisco Ballet and lived on the University of San Francisco campus. Isaacs is her biological mother, while Schwartz became her legal guardian through a second-parent adoption.

The couple married in 2008 at a joint ceremony with a gay male couple they are friends with; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa officiated. Isaacs and Schwartz had registered as domestic partners in San Francisco in 1991.

Isaacs lived in the city from 1981 until 1993, when she moved with Schwartz to Washington, D.C. due to Schwartz being hired to teach at American University. They stayed throughout the Clinton administration and the Republican takeover of Congress, with Isaacs leading the task force's lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill.

"I was there for the drafting of ENDA, hate crimes, and the Violence Against Women Act," recalled Isaacs. "Some of the things we did people never heard about because we worked to block some terrible, terrible things such as all these anti-gay amendments they were trying to attach to different legislation."

In 2000 they moved back to California when Schwartz was hired to teach European history at the University of Southern California. Isaacs was hired as the interim executive director of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center and served as a commissioner on the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission.

 Her resume includes stints as the executive director of various agencies, including the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the Inner City Law Center; and Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. Isaacs also worked as communications director and legislative aide for Democratic Los Angeles Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and was a member of the executive committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.

She was a founding director of the Coalition for LGBT Health and served as a policy director of People For the American Way. Isaacs also was a national board member of AIDS Action.

"Her long history of both growing effective organizations and working across broad social justice platforms makes her the ideal choice to advance and elevate state-based equality organizations," stated Jody Cofer, board co-chair of the Equality Federation Institute, in announcing Isaacs's hiring earlier this month.

Brown taps lesbian for energy post

Last week Governor Jerry Brown appointed out lesbian Nancy Ryan as deputy executive director for the California Public Utilities Commission. The 49-year-old Berkeley resident has been a commissioner on the Public Utilities Commission and previously served as deputy executive director.

Ryan, a Democrat, will earn $134,808 and serves at the pleasure of the governor. She has had a long career working on energy issues.

She served as chief of staff and chief energy advisor to the commission's president, Michael R. Peevey, from 2006 to 2009. Prior to that, Ryan was a senior economist and California deputy regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund from 2001 to 2005, deputy director for the Ecosystems Program in 2005 and visiting assistant professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley from 1996 to 2007. She was an independent energy consultant for conservation groups, public agencies and electric utilities from 1997 to 2001.

Ryan received her Ph.D. in economics from UC Berkeley and a B.A. in economics from Yale. She and her partner, Carrie Portis , have a 2-year-old daughter, Frances .

Milk Club welcomes new co-chairs

The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club this week ushered in brand new leaders for the progressive political group.

Leading the group as it marks its 35th anniversary this year and overseeing its involvement in the fall races for mayor and district attorney will be co-chairs Nathan Allbee and Stephany Ashley. They are succeeding David Waggoner and Denise D'Anne, the first two-person team to lead the club.

Last year Allbee and Ashley oversaw Rafael Mandelman 's unsuccessful bid for the District 8 supervisor seat. Ashley served as Mandelman's campaign manager and Allbee was his deputy campaign manager.

The two bring not only fresh faces but also a youthful spirit to the Milk club, as Allbee is 31 and Ashley is 25. They will serve one-year terms having been elected by the club's members at its meeting Tuesday, January 25.

"We're very excited that our slate this year is mostly made up of new, young activists and we're looking forward to bringing energy and fresh ideas to the board. It's going to be a great year for the Milk Club," stated Allbee.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings around 10 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column looks at how gay GOPers in California are seeking more political clout.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail

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