An inspired pick to lead District 8
Mayor Ed Lee's selection of longtime AIDS advocate Jeff Sheehy for District 8 supervisor is an inspired choice. A gay man, husband, and father, Sheehy is an exceptional individual who has the opportunity to lead not only his district, which includes the Castro, Noe Valley, and Glen Park, but also the city as it prepares to face President-elect Donald Trump's administration when he takes office next week. "I found someone I'm excited about," Lee said Sunday at Sheehy's swearing-in ceremony in the South Light Court at City Hall. We're excited, too.
Sheehy has an independent streak that will serve him well. A former president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, Sheehy last year backed then-Supervisor Scott Wiener in the state Senate race, and forcefully called out Wiener's opponent, Supervisor Jane Kim, who was accused, along with gay former Supervisor David Campos, of fighting efforts to add $2.5 million in funding for the city's Getting to Zero initiative. At the time, Campos said that "it wasn't enough" to focus on Getting to Zero, and he had wanted to include other programs. But that would have been a huge blow to the initiative that aims to eliminate new HIV infections, deaths due to HIV/AIDS, and stigma against people living with HIV by 2020. It relies on a three-prong strategy of expanded access to PrEP, rapid initiation of antiretroviral therapy, and engaging and retaining HIV-positive people in care. Now that he's on the Board of Supervisors, Sheehy, who was a founding member of the Getting to Zero steering committee, will have more influence on the city's budget.
Sheehy is also the first openly HIV-positive member of the board, and his support in the HIV/AIDS community was on display Sunday, with many HIVers, AIDS service organization leaders, and researchers in attendance. He joins El Cerrito City Councilman Gabriel Quinto as the only out Bay Area local officeholders living with HIV. That alone is a weapon to fight the entrenched HIV/AIDS stigma that remains, even in San Francisco. The fact that it took a reporter months to find three young men living with HIV who were willing to be interviewed for a story we published a couple weeks ago is just one example of how deeply ingrained this stigma is in the LGBT community; another is the unwillingness of AIDS organization leaders to disclose their own status when we ask them.
Health-related issues could be where Sheehy will focus his attention, and it's just in time. The Republican-controlled Congress is expected to vote this week on the first steps for repealing the Affordable Care Act, and Trump is calling on Congress to come up with a replacement quicker than lawmakers had planned. That will put them in the unenviable position of trying to take away health coverage for 20 million Americans and presumably replacing it with a less comprehensive plan. And local governments can't expect any help from the health lobby. The New York Times reported this week that many are so scared of Trump that they are "struggling for a response to a legislative quick strike that would upend much of the American health care system." Sheehy hopes to establish a board committee to deal with federal health cuts and policies. The ACA has been especially beneficial to transgender people and those living with HIV/AIDS, who benefit under its ban on pre-existing conditions, and many are understandably concerned about any future Republican plan put forward.
In addition to health, there are myriad other important issues that affect District 8, such as off-leash rules for dogs. This week, the National Park Service announced it is placing a hold on the new rule for dog management in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a big victory for dog owners who oppose the massive restrictions on off-leash areas. But the Recreation and Park Department's plans for city parks would also reduce access and, in a city with a lot of dogs, that's something that needs fine-tuning.
Of course, the housing crisis and homelessness continue to impact District 8, and we expect that Sheehy will cast a critical eye at development projects to ensure they include appropriate levels of below-market-rate units and that more affordable projects are green-lighted. Improving the climate for small businesses is also important for the Castro, Noe Valley, and other commercial corridors in the district.
Sheehy knows how to mobilize people. He, Geoff Kors, and Carol Stuart were major players in the city's Equal Benefits Ordinance fight about 20 years ago. They kept the pressure on United Airlines, which balked at the plan to have companies with city contracts to offer the same benefits to LGBT workers that they offered to straight ones. Now it seems almost quaint but at the time it was a big deal. Sheehy helped organize boycotts outside United's downtown ticket office – this was before online bookings – and engaged the help of activists wearing playful costumes such as Tinky Winky of "Teletubbies" fame to garner media attention. It took years for United to come around, but eventually the company relented. Now, of course, equal benefits laws are standard in many municipalities. For his part, Kors was elected last year to a seat on the Palm Springs City Council, where he continues to fight for equality. Now, Sheehy joins him as another activist working in local government.
Sheehy will be a representative for everyone in the district – LGBTQ and straight. We look forward to his proposals and contributions to the city.