Could Gerrie Schipske Be Long Beach's First LGBT Mayor?

The councilwoman stands on the cusp of making that title a reality. But getting there hasn't been easy

I'm not saying Schipske is somehow hiding who she is. She has lived openly with her partner, Flo Pickett, for 33 years, raising three children and now doting on a 3-year-old granddaughter.

I'm not saying Schipske is not a passionate, vigilant, creative and proud force for LGBT equality, protection and opportunity.

What I'm saying is I—or anyone else—don't have any right, qualifications or desire to say anything for Schipske.

With her partner (at right) Flo Pickett and Melissa Etheridge
Courtesy Long Beach Historical Society
With her partner (at right) Flo Pickett and Melissa Etheridge
Photo from Long Beach’s LGBT past
John Gilhooley
Photo from Long Beach’s LGBT past

But the label of Long Beach's First Gay Mayor is around the corner, and the combination of Schipske's run for mayor and this weekend's Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride festival seems as though it's the time for it to start. On Sunday morning, Schipske's campaign trail is actually going to merge with the Pride Parade route, as Schipske rides a fire engine in the 1-mile parade down Ocean Boulevard. And it's a fitting crowning of sorts for Schipske. She was gay when gay wasn't cool, having homophobic smears hurled at her in campaign mailers and fliers during her initial efforts to win elected office, as well as listening to local "experts" opine that she couldn't be elected in the city's Fifth Council district.

Instead, she was elected—and re-elected. During her two terms in office, she didn't pander to gay voters and instead handled her council job by addressing issues on the merits and calling things as she saw them. She didn't shrink in silence if she believed the incumbent mayor and his council allies were wrong (including on an attempted parcel property tax that she helped derail).

Now that she's announced a mayoral run, incumbent Mayor Bob Foster (who hasn't announced his future plans) apparently wasn't big enough to include Schipske in a photo-op timed for the U.S. Supreme Court's arguments on Proposition 8. Foster's office issued a media release pretending LB's first openly lesbian and second openly gay elected official didn't exist. (Dan Baker was first.)

So when Schipske learned about the raising of a Pride flag at City Hall, she simply showed up, paying tribute to actions in Washington. The release from the mayor's office explicitly included Garcia as part of the event, but neither one of them acknowledged Schipske's presence.

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Perhaps the most unfathomable aspect of Schipske is how the hell she has done and continues to do so much after getting the ball rolling by working for the CIA reading intelligence reports on the wars in Southeast Asia.


OC WEEKLY: Who taught you how to do this? Or did it come naturally? And is it satisfying?

GERRIE SCHIPSKE: My parents were always doing something but didn't have the benefit of going to college. They had political views, but they expressed them around the kitchen table. My mom registered voters to make a little extra money for the house. On Election Days, our house was a polling place. They made sure we were involved in sports and scouting—I was a Girl Scout for 12 years. . . .

Maybe the biggest influence was the Sisters of St. Joseph, who taught me from first to eighth grades when we were in Orange County. They have a wonderful social-justice program. They got it out there that we are supposed to do. . . .

I guess it's a combination of things, although I do think being first born makes you more responsible. But someone's doing some research into the contention that gays and lesbians probably are the most effective elected officials. Part of that I kind of agree with, in a way. . . . You know about Ed Tobias, right? Wrote all these financial books, worked with the Democratic Party. But he also wrote this memoir, The Best Little Boy in the World, about how, especially those of us who are older, we started out with a mark against us about being gay. We work very hard in every other part of our lives so people can't point to us and say, "Oh, yeah, the reason so-and-so is like that is because they're gay." It resonated a little bit. When I heard about the study, I said, "You know, I think there may be some truth to that."

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: When you brought up the Best Little Boy book, it was the first time I ever heard you bring up your sexual . . . what's the word? Anyway, trying to be the best under such circumstances—it sounds like horrible pressure. And then at the end, it doesn't mean that people are going to treat you better. And maybe it creates another misconception about you, makes things more complicated, emphasizes the sense that you are different, that you are stigmatized.

GERRIE SCHIPSKE: It certainly was a stigma, and it's still a stigma outside a certain circle. [In the CIA,] I was working in top-secret situations and politically sensitive areas, and I didn't—I couldn't—let anybody know who I was, and that kind of circumscribes your life a little bit. It narrows your circle, forces you to change your pronouns when you're talking about what you've done over the weekend. That does have an impact. I'd make a wonderful spy. That is part of living in the intelligence community, where everything isn't what it appears to be. Those of us who are older, this newfound openness and tolerance has come later in our lives. This wasn't always there. That has an impact. You're very careful about what you do.

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