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

Perhaps you've been very careful, but it doesn't seem to have stopped you from doing very much. You mentioned being older, but it seems that, politically, you are accomplishing more than ever—in terms of constituent service to your district, in terms of this run for mayor.

I think I'm doing four times what somebody else would do, making sure I know every fact on an issue instead of winging it. People start appreciating that. They say, "She knows what she's talking about, she seems to do her homework, she's fair, and"—this part is very funny—"she's very liberal." I just laugh. I go, "Where did you get that?" It's not a bad thing, but I think the assumption is that if you're—well, a newspaper once called me the "liberal lesbian lawyer from Long Beach." [Laughs.] Like, if you're gay, you must be this way or that.

Fact remains, like everybody else, we're all different. Every community has a spectrum of people who are different—they're not all the same. That, for me, has been the hardest to get across to people. But I think I've successfully done that. . . .

As a young’un
Courtesy of Gerrie Schipske
As a young’un
One of Schipske’s books
John Gilhooley
One of Schipske’s books

I think that's why I've been re-elected in that district. People say, "Okay, you've told us about that. Now what about the issues? How can you get my sidewalk fixed? Are you going to make sure the budget is balanced?" That's where people's real lives are, for the most part. . . .

I've never made a point of taking my personal life and putting it in people's faces. Not that I've denied it. That may be a difference, too. The other thing I get—they haven't said it, but I feel it—is "If she's this open about who she is, we can trust her." I think that's important.

You said you knew you wanted to be in politics when you were a high-school senior. Did you have any idea that being lesbian might preclude that?

I didn't realize I was gay until I was about 21. I just had a bigger focus. Started out wanting to go to medical school and be a doctor, so that was my focus. Actually, when I was much younger, I was going to be a nun.

*     *     *

: Once you did realize who you are, you must have also been struck by the realization that whether or not and how much others knew could have consequences for [you] with family, friends—and you were working for the CIA! When you did come out, were there any issues with your parents?

GERRIE SCHIPSKE: Oh . . . yeah.

[She says this, but not convincingly—instead, with what seems to be concern about where answering this question fully might lead. But after this brief uncertainty, it's apparently resolved. She chuckles lightly as she begins.]

This is the weirdest story! I came back to California—from Washington, D.C., to Long Beach—alone. The first person I'd been with—we'd been together, oh, about six years—she'd gone off and gotten married; that happens a lot in the community. So I didn't know anybody. I was working for a city manager [of the city of Long Beach}, who I, to this day, adore; he's one of the most ethical men I've ever met. A lesbian came to visit the office one day—Jean Harris. She was very out and dramatic, she became a [gay and lesbian rights] leader and just died a couple of years ago. She came into the office, and she was trying to convert me—she did not know I was gay; I couldn't tell anybody. And after she left, I remember the city manager coming to me and saying, "You know, this is why we don't hire homosexuals—because once they get in, they want to bring all their friends."

[Schipske gives a pained chuckle.] And I'm just cringing, thinking, "My God, if he finds out, I'm going to lose my job!"

That scared me. [After work,] I would go home. I was deathly afraid. I never went to the bars. I'd never been in a gay bar because I was so deeply closeted in Washington, D.C.

So I turned on the radio one night—it was about midnight—and there was this person on KFWB, and it was this woman by the name of Laura Schlessinger. [She laughs a little again.] Good story for you! So, Laura Schlessinger seemed to me, on her show, went out of the way to appeal to gays and lesbians—about how you need to accept yourself, this is wonderful, yadda-yadda. She had a radio show then, but it wasn't the radio show she wound up having; this was really about talking to people—none of this right-wing stuff she got into later.

So I picked up the phone and called her office, made an appointment and went to see her as a therapist. And at the second meeting, she gave me a book about lesbian sex. [Schipske lets go a cackling laugh to indicate the ridiculousness of it.]

I said to her, "That's not why I'm here, really. I'm broken-hearted. I don't know anybody. I don't want to lose my job. I don't want to reach out to anybody." And I also was having some really bad stomach pains.

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