John M. Becker

Heckler to Lesbian City Councilwoman: 'You're Filth'

Filed By John M. Becker | August 05, 2014 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Politics
Tags: bullying, California, city council, harassment, hate speech, homophobia, Jovanka Beckles, racism, Richmond, San Francisco, slurs

jovanka-beckles.jpgJovanka Beckles, the vice mayor and first openly lesbian councilwoman in the San Francisco Bay-area city of Richmond, has endured a relentless onslaught of vitriolic racist and homophobic hate speech from members of the public and even some of her colleagues. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Mark Wassberg took to the podium, wagged his finger at the Richmond City Council and said:

"I'm going to keep coming up here and tell you how gays have no morality. ... You're filth. You're dirt. Because I have the constitutional right to say it."...

Since she was elected in 2010, Beckles, 51, has endured taunts, rants and ridicule about her sexual orientation and race - she's from Panama and identifies herself as a black Latina - during City Council meetings. Sometimes it comes from the public, and sometimes it comes from fellow council members.

Sometimes police haul away hecklers or the council recesses until the shouting dies down. In July, Beckles proposed a crackdown on hate speech, which the city staff is looking into.

Beckles reportedly has gotten used to the abuse and very rarely loses her cool. Fellow councilman Tom Butt says of his colleague, "She puts up with a hell of a lot more than I would." San Francisco State political science professor Robert Smith describes the hate speech as "almost nonstop" and "vitriolic," but notes that Beckles handles herself with "remarkable decorum."

More, after the break.

Some of the attacks come from Corky Boozé, one of Beckles's colleagues on the council. And like many bullies, Boozé blames the victim:

"She's got a short fuse. Some people don't care for her lifestyle [sic]. I don't care for it myself, but she takes that in a homophobic way. I'm not homophobic - my ex-wife is a lesbian."

Boozé also attacks Beckles on racial grounds, questioning her commitment to the city's African American community because she chooses to identify as black, not African-American. "She says she's a black Latina," he said. "Well, you're either African American or you're not."

Smith, the SFSU professor, says the constant barrage of anti-gay slurs that Boozé and community members hurl at Beckles are disgraceful and tarnishing the council's credibility:

"It's no way to conduct business," he said. "Some people find it entertaining, like a reality show, but really it brings the City Council and city government into disrepute."

Why does Beckles put up with such unrelenting attacks? Because she loves her community. Beckles told Chronicle staff writer Carolyn Jones that Richmond has made serious progress on issues like crime, jobs, parks, and community gardens during her term on the council.

"I think things will eventually change for the better in this city," she said, "and in the end, that's a cause I think is worth fighting for. It's worth putting up with all this other stuff."

Beckles is running for re-election in November. Click here for her campaign website, and click here if you'd like to donate to her campaign.

Sadly, I suspect that as opponents of equality continue to lose the public debate and become more strident and defensive in their views, we'll see more of this across the country -- especially if we keep pretending that the basic civil and human rights of LGBT people are things about which good people can reasonably disagree.

The fact that someone feels empowered to walk into a public space, shamelessly spew this bigoted filth, and belittle an elected official on the basis of their sexual orientation means we have not done nearly enough to shame and stigmatize homophobia -- which ought to be every bit as reviled and scorned and shunned by civil society as other toxic social evils like racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism.

Watch a report on the controversy from last month from KTVU-TV (false equivalency alert, though):

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