By Elizabeth Hannon
Editor’s note: Our community is quite interesting. Sometimes, no matter how hard we fight alongside each other, we still tend to eat our own at the drop of a hat. I guess that is typical of any group, but sometimes the spite and hate we put forth toward other members within our community takes my breath away. We don’t have to agree with each other on every point, but we are a community — an incredible, sprawling, creative, loving, passionate village of people from every walk of life that all identify as LGBTQ — and dammit, we need to remember that the enemy is on the outside, not within.
A couple weeks ago, one particularly angry member of our community questioned — in a jarring letter to all local media and San Diego Pride — why lifelong activist Susan Jester would be chosen as one of two Community Grand Marshals in the Spirit of Stonewall Award. He completely dismissed her decades of activism laying the groundwork for the open and flourishing community that we enjoy today; instead he focused on her political leanings.
In his letter, which I have chosen not to give full attention to here, he made many accusations and demanded that Jester publicly disavow her party and tried to hold her personally responsible for the faults of every Republican president in her lifetime.
Following is a letter received in response to that letter. I am running this instead, because as a community, I feel we need to rally together and focus on the positive in each other, so we can continue to find the way forward. This letter is from a member of our community who identifies as “a nearly radical activist, socialist-leaning liberal” who proudly chose to ride in the car during the parade with Jester.
Susan and I met by chance at a Spirit of Stonewall event in 2012 and became fast friends. Our friendship began with hours of conversations over lunch, over drinks, over dinners learning about our common life experiences and our many differences, especially when it came to politics. I am a staunch life-long Democrat. Susan is a Republican — she is more than someone who votes Republican, she’s a successful political advisor, strategist and campaign manager. We do not see eye-to-eye on many political issues. We do not follow the same spiritual path; I’m a Buddhist, she’s a Christian. We do, however, have amazing respectful conversations about these aspects of our life; particularly the politics in our city, our state and our nation.
Like many others, I wanted to understand how she could be a lesbian and a Republican! It is through conversations with Susan that I understand not only where she is coming from, but have gained tremendous insights on the schools of thought embraced by the “other” party. Let me share with you how gay Republicans, and specifically Susan, have impacted our LGBT community and deserve the honor being bestowed upon her.
In 1983, police were arresting (via entrapment) gay men in Balboa Park. These arrests were all over the headlines. Susan sat with a group of lesbians who were asking her to take the issue up with the politicians she knew, as the community was “getting a really bad rap.” At the time, the City Council (six of seven), the County Board of Supervisors (four of five), the entire congressional delegation (except one), the mayor, the governor and the president were all Republicans.
Unfortunately, the gay community could not stand by and wait until the next election; we had to act. To win the hearts and minds of conservative Republican political persons successfully, it was necessary to send in another conservative, not a liberal who would attack their views. Susan was that person. She secured the meetings and persuaded opinions of the Republican leaders. Susan was elected Ms. Gay San Diego and used that platform to inform and educate politicians and the community at large. Things began to shift.
Susan also helped to organize the Log Cabin Republicans (gay Republicans) in San Diego to attend Republican Party events, to work phone banks, and steer various political campaigns as out-gay Republicans. It was the first time that these right-heavy politicians engaged with LGBT people and they began to take notice of our community’s issues. Beliefs began to shift.
Working with others, Susan also established the Gay/Lesbian Police Liaison Committee, which provided an open channel of communication between our community and the police.
Religious groups began to show up and demonstrate with their hate-speech for our gay community during the peak of the AIDS crisis. With our brothers dying en mass, the protestors were in Hillcrest, camping in front of the Flame, lining up along the Pride Parade route and spewing very hurtful messages. Our community was under attack. Having been raised in an evangelical home, Susan served as a bridge between the two worlds. She stood toe-to-toe; nose-to-nose with the protestors. She worked with the police force and helped change these interactions. Our sense of security began to shift.
Susan’s steadfast dedication to our LGBT community is one reason I am honored to be her friend; her ability to work on issues with those that attack and try to oppress our community, our freedoms and our rights. Susan has been able to navigate conversations with Republican and religious leaders for decades.
Recently, she was instrumental in influencing the California Republican Party platform to change much of the language regarding gay rights and their definition of “family values,” and while there is still work to be done in California and nationwide, the California Republican Party is beginning to shift. This is YUGE.
Speaking of YUGE … there’s our president. Herein lies another reason I love calling her my friend, she does not follow blindly. She does not support Trump’s approach, his lack of diplomacy, the ideals and actions he tweets about, nor the reactionary executive orders he signs. She has never supported him and is embarrassed by his outrageous comments and antics. In fact, she resigned from the Log Cabin Republicans state board because she so vehemently disagreed with their endorsement of candidate Trump last year.
She was present at the Women’s March, she attends NOW events and works from within the party to persuade others to stand up to the direction of this administration. Over the weekend, while hanging out at SheFest, she told me that she will continue to speak loudly and clearly for LGBT equality within the ranks of the GOP — as she has been doing for over 32 years.
“When all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.” —Barack Obama
—Elizabeth Hannon self-identifies as a lesbian, Democrat, activist, Buddhist, and proud friend of Susan Jester.