Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Pelosi and the Gays: She's Been Attacked as a "Radical San Francisco Liberal." but Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi Says She's Sticking with Her Gay Constituents as She Takes Control of the Nation's Political Agenda

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Pelosi and the Gays: She's Been Attacked as a "Radical San Francisco Liberal." but Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi Says She's Sticking with Her Gay Constituents as She Takes Control of the Nation's Political Agenda

Article excerpt

When Nancy Pelosi first arrived in Washington, D.C., as a newly elected congresswoman in 1987 her fellow Democratic lawmakers warned her about identifying as a San Francisco liberal. After all, she represents California's eighth congressional district, which includes almost all of the city of San Francisco--including the predominantly gay Castro district--and some worried she might be perceived as too liberal to be taken seriously.

"On my first day my colleagues told me not to speak. You don't speak on the first day; you just get sworn in and that's it," she recalls in an e-mail interview with The Advocate. "So I tried to do that, but when the speaker [of the U.S. House of Representatives] said, 'Would the gentle lady like to say anything?' I said 'Yes, I am here to fight AIDS.' People asked me 'Why would you say that? You don't need to be labeled that way.' I responded, "Well, that's why I came here.'"

Now Pelosi, 66, is the speaker of the House, and everyone is asking: Will she continue to be that headstrong San Francisco liberal, standing up for gays and lesbians? In a recent Saturday Night Live skit, an actress portraying Pelosi rebuts GOP warnings that Democrats would bring "San Francisco values" to the country. Then, midway through the sketch, a gay staffer appears, clad in leather bondage gear.

Pelosi's connections to her LGBT constituency may be fodder for late-night comedy and grist for the conservative smear machine, but those ties are also long-standing and deep. And her ascension to the highest leadership office in Congress would seem to bode well for gays and lesbians. "This is an historic moment for this community," says David Mixner, a gay writer, activist, and longtime Pelosi friend. "I don't think we've ever had someone at that level of leadership who has her record on our issues."

For the next two years and possibly beyond, the person who sets the agenda in Congress and wields the greatest influence on the ruling party is a woman who has opposed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and advocated for increased AIDS funding. Those issues have personal meaning for Pelosi: She has attended the commitment ceremonies of her gay friends and watched others die of the disease.

Indeed, Pelosi's close circle of gay friends, including James Hormel, the former ambassador to Luxembourg, and his partner, Timothy Wu, has shaped her worldview--and her politics. She has attended numerous gay events and has hired many gay staffers in Washington and in her district offices. "'Organic' is a good way to describe it," says Mark Leno, a gay California assemblyman, of Pelosi's championing of gay rights. Leno, who represents San Francisco and who has known Pelosi for more than 20 years, says the speaker-elect is "very much a part of this community and of the progressive community, so it only comes naturally."

Although she is considered one of our strongest allies in Congress, Pelosi is first and foremost a political animal. She grew up in Baltimore before studying at Trinity College in D.C. She was raised on old-school party politics under the tutelage of her father, Baltimore mayor and Democratic boss Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. She played a backstage role in California politics for years before running for office. In 2002 she won a tough intraparty race to lead House Democrats, and she has since performed a delicate balancing act to appease her fractious caucus.

Besides gays, Pelosi counts among her national constituents labor unions, trial lawyers, African-American voters, and Hispanics--all of whom she must continue to court. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.