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Wed, Apr

Is an SEIU Local Union Paying for Anti-Gay Smears to Scare Up Votes? 

Fidencio Gallardo and Graciela Ortiz

LA POLITICS

LGBTQ - The campaign by an SEIU local union in L.A. to elect an ethically challenged candidate to the L.A. school board took an ugly turn last week. 

SEIU Local 99, which represents some school employees, paid for attack mailers in the contest for the open seat to succeed LAUSD School Board President Jackie Goldberg in District 5. The mailers, which began to arrive Feb. 16, lash out at 30-year teacher Fidencio Gallardo and promote Graciela Ortiz, a school employee recently removed from duty at LAUSD after being named in a shocking lawsuit alleging cover-up of sexual abuse of a student and retaliation against the police who nabbed the perpetrator.  

Despite the serious questions about Ortiz raised by the lawsuit, SEIU Local 99 continues to push Ortiz on voters. Despite their blitz of spending for her, their recent attacks on Gallardo suggest he has gained an edge with voters. Their attacks may not be limited to glossy fliers in the mailbox.

 

On Sunday, February 11, just before the Super Bowl, I witnessed a canvasser, a woman in her 50s, come to my door and ask for a Latina/o member of my household.  She was seeking votes for Ortiz. I spoke to her in both English and Spanish. Her words: “I am here to secure your vote for Graciela.” Having stepped away from a phone call when the doorbell rang, I was not interested in a new conversation with a stranger. She moved on to the next house.  

At my neighbor’s home, I watched as the canvasser was intercepted on her way to the door. That house also includes Latina/o and Spanish-speaking voters.  

My neighbor greeted the canvasser in the front yard. Speaking in Spanish, the canvasser repeated her scripted statement: “I am here to secure your vote for Graciela.” My neighbor, also speaking in Spanish, indicated she is a public school mom. The canvasser engaged her further and got to what might have been her mission. “You should know that candidate Fidencio Gallardo is gay,” she said in Spanish.  

“And the person he works for, [School Board President] Jackie Goldberg is a lesbian.”  

Doubling down on her appeal to homophobia, the canvasser said about Fidencio: “He is not the type of person that you want involved in teaching your kids.” 

From that point on, the exchange did not go well for the canvasser. My neighbor was so incensed by the fear-mongering language deployed by the canvasser that she practically ordered the canvasser off her property. The canvasser did not “secure” any “vote for Graciela.”  

The canvasser’s effort to appeal to bigotry, to invoke dehumanizing stereotypes about LGBTQ+ people as predatory, is old and pervasive — and patently false and despicable. In an indication just how backwards this appeal to homophobia is, it’s worth noting Californians actually voted on and defeated a statewide ballot measure rooted in such fear-mongering — back in 1978! To target an audience of non-English-speakers now so as to avoid detection or exposure of the hateful message aiming to get votes for a candidate is bigoted and reprehensible.  

It is the handiwork of desperate, bottom-feeding scoundrels. And it must be defeated, again. 

I appreciate that, instead of “securing” support for Graciela Ortiz, the tactic backfired on my block.  

But on every block? It fails — and boomerangs — only when voters with spine and a sense of kinship with LGBTQ+ people, like my neighbor reject it and report it. 

The tactic used by the canvasser has a name: gay-baiting. Those who employ it and pay for it must be held accountable and defeated.  

The tactic may bear the fingerprints of campaign consultant Javier Gonzalez of BT Strategies. According to official campaign disclosures, he received more than $75,000 in money through an independent expenditure campaign by SEIU Local 99 to promote Graciela Ortiz. (See images here; and find online the information shown in them.)  

Gonzalez helped run the losing 2022 campaign of Alex Villanueva for Sheriff and crafted messaging for the losing 2022 effort by SEIU Local 99 to elect Maria Brenes to School Board. In June 2022, L.A. Times columnist Gustavo Arellano reported in detail on Gonzalez’ divisive and discredited campaign tactics and labeled him a “troll.” 

For any SEIU local to have any connection to gay-baiting is antithetical and harmful to the union’s mission and utterly hypocritical. The union’s international president, Mary Kay Henry, and former president of its largest local union in California, now-U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler, are both out lesbian SEIU leaders who would be horrified by such tactics.  

Meanwhile, Graciela Ortiz is under a darkening cloud of ethical problems. The day after the canvasser seeking votes for Ortiz came to my block, another union, the California School Employees Association (CSEA) Local 500, voted unanimously to repudiate its earlier endorsement of Ortiz. 

The union also reaffirmed its sole endorsement of Fidencio Gallardo for the open School Board seat in Board District 5. Victory by Gallardo, who is openly gay and also has the endorsement of the L.A. Times, Supervisor Hilda Solis, and Board President Goldberg, would preserve representation for openly LGBTQ+ people on the board. 

 

Fidencio Gallardo 

If there is any silver lining to the smear campaign that SEIU may be funding, it is a reminder how important it is to have courageous, openly LGBTQ+ elected leaders. Both trailblazer Jackie Goldberg, the first openly gay person on the School

Board and L.A. City Council, and Gallardo have spoken out against efforts to censor school books and distort curricula to deny or erase LGBTQ+ people.  Leaders like them are valuable examples to ALL Angelenos on how to advocate effectively for students and how to persevere and even prevail in the face of falsehoods and hate.  

(Hans Johnson is a longtime leader for LGBTQ+ human rights, environmental justice, and public education. His columns appear in national news outlets including USA Today and in top daily news outlets of more than 20 states. A resident of Eagle Rock, he is also president of East Area Progressive Democrats (EAPD), the largest grassroots Democratic club in California, with more than 1,100 members.) Drawing of FIdencio Gallardo by Deborah Aschheim.