Political Notebook: Lesbian lawmaker looks to make history in Oregon
by Matthew S. Bajko
Lesbian Oregon state Representative Tina Kotek could make history this year by becoming the first lesbian speaker of any statehouse in the United States.
It is widely expected that the Democrats will be the majority party in the Beaver State's lower legislative chamber following the November election. The 60-member house is currently evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.
At least half a dozen seats are up for grabs in this year's races, with Democrats hopeful of picking up three to four seats currently held by Republicans.
Kotek, 45, represents Portland's northeastern neighborhoods and is currently the only out member of the Oregon Legislative Assembly. Hailing from the predominantly Democratic District 44, which she has represented since 2006, she is all but assured of being re-elected this fall.
Kotek was in the Bay Area this week to attend the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee's Western Leadership conference. The get-together at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay wraps up tonight (Thursday, July 12).
She met with a dozen donors in San Francisco Tuesday, July 10 at a fundraiser co-hosted by former Oregonian Rebecca Orr , Equality California's spokeswoman who worked with Kotek in Portland.
"Why I am here is to make some new friends and raise a little money," said Kotek, currently serving as the House Democratic Caucus Leader.
In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter , Kotek said she hopes her becoming speaker will encourage more LGBT people to enter politics and inspire LGBT youth.
"It sends a message that you can do this too," said Kotek, a Pennsylvania native who takes inspiration from the late gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. "There are a lot of talented people who happen to be gay or lesbian that want to run for office."
She also hopes to lead an effort in 2014 to repeal Oregon's constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.
"We can change that and it will help to have a Democratic leader to push that," she said.
So far Kotek is the only declared Democrat seeking to be named speaker. The current Democratic co-speaker, Representative Arnie Roblan, is running for a state Senate seat this year, leaving the high-level post up for grabs.
When her party's House caucus meets in late November, it is expected it will elect Kotek to the position. Then the full House will vote for its new speaker at the start of the 2013 legislative session Monday, February 4.
Should Kotek emerge victorious, she will become Oregon's first out speaker and only the fourth openly LGBT top-ranking leader of any statehouse in the country.
Two gay men, including California Assemblyman John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles), have been speakers of a lower legislative chamber, while the late gay Minnesota state Senator Allan Spear was a longtime president of his Senate body.
Compromise reached on Castro bank branch
After District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener brought together Castro leaders and officials with Bank of the West Monday, July 9, a compromise was reached regarding the bank's plan to open a branch on upper Market Street.
A division of Bank BNP Paribas, Bank of the West wants to open a neighborhood-serving branch in the new mixed-use development going up at the corner of 16th, Market and Noe streets. Its moving into such a high-profile intersection, however, caused consternation from some residents.
Several neighborhood associations opposed seeing it take over the entire 4,484 square foot space. A proposal by the bank and developer Angus McCarthy to set aside a portion of the ground floor for a smaller retail space met objections due to its entrance being on the less visible Noe Street side.
According to Terry Asten Bennett , president of the Castro merchant group that voted in June to support Bank of the West's permit application, the retail space will now be built in such a way that it can be divided into three separate storefronts.
Bank of the West will move into a larger space with an entrance on 16th Street. The bank will, in turn, lease out the remaining 1,500 square foot space, said Bennett, who took part in the meeting.
"It was specifically agreed that they will not be title companies, doctor's offices or insurance agents," she told the B.A.R. , adding that all agreed the retailers "must be businesses that will activate the space."
The Planning Commission is expected to sign off on the bank's application at its July 19 meeting.
A street named Vicki
A proposal is being floated to name a San Francisco street, or possibly a city building, after the late Vicki Marlane, a transgender drag performer who long held court at Aunt Charlie's Lounge. Ms. Marlane died last July due to AIDS complications at the age of 76.
Members of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club's political action committee voted last week to find a proper way to honor Ms. Marlane. The club's president, Glendon Hyde, who also goes by his drag name Anna Conda, said the idea is still in the concept phase and he has yet to officially ask any of the Board of Supervisors members to sign on.
"I have not sent out my search yet. The PAC should take it to the general and then write up a proposal. I am just shopping the idea casually," Hyde told the B.A.R. "Jane Kim's office seemed like they would be interested in talking."
An aide for Kim, who represents District 6 in which Aunt Charlie's is located, said the supervisor's office is supportive of the idea and willing to work with Milk Club members on it.
Perhaps the stretch of Turk Street between Jones and Taylor, home to Aunt Charlie's, could be renamed Vicki Marlane Way.
Born Donald Sterger in Crookston, Minnesota, Ms. Marlane spent time as a circus performer before traveling the country perfecting her drag act. She moved to San Francisco in 1966 and later participated in the city's first Pride parade.
After undergoing sex reassignment surgery in the 1980s, Ms. Marlane moved to San Diego. She eventually returned to the Bay Area and started a popular drag revue show at Aunt Charlie's called "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
The success of those shows led to weekly Friday and Saturday night engagements dubbed "The Hot Boxxx Girls." Ms. Marlane's dance moves garnered her the nickname "the lady with the liquid spine."
Only three other LGBT icons have streets named after them in San Francisco. A portion of 16th Street in front of the Castro's public library is named after drag performer and political trailblazer Jose Sarria , while a block of Myrtle Street off Van Ness Avenue near City Hall is named for lesbian author Alice B. Toklas, who was born nearby.
In North Beach Adler Alley, which connects Grant and Columbus Avenues, was renamed after Jack Kerouac, the bisexual Beat Generation writer.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column looked at the races for Oakland City Council seats.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.