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 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.

Laura Schlessinger said, "Well, that's emotional constipation" and all this other stuff, you know. [Becoming sarcastic.] But she was very accepting of gays and lesbians. She got this bright idea that I needed to haul my parents up to North Hollywood, where she had her practice off Highland, that I needed to haul them in there and, uhh, come out to them. So, I did.

It was the dumbest thing I ever did. That's not the way you come out to your parents. But I did. And it was very painful for them, it was very painful for me, and then, as we all know, Laura Schlessinger wound up turning on the gay community—and that was just the height of hypocrisy. It was a bad thing she did.

Gerrie Schipske
John Gilhooley
Gerrie Schipske
Schipske speaking at a rally for marriage equality
Courtesy of Gerrie Schipske
Schipske speaking at a rally for marriage equality

[Schipske takes a momentary, assessing pause, then resumes.] So I told my parents. And my parents weren't happy about it, and looking back, I wish I had done it another way. But my parents said they already knew. Most parents do. They said they knew, and my mother said, "I'm praying for you to find a husband." My dad didn't say much. My dad was very quiet about it.

And then I met Flo. I was open with them about Flo. I brought Flo to the house. They liked Flo. Then when I adopted my children, they were wonderful, loving grandparents to my children. Every once in a while, my mother would say, "We're still praying for you. We're praying for Flo, too." But after that point, it was never anger.

*     *     *

NURSING, MOTHERHOOD AND RIDING A BIKE
GERRIE SCHIPSKE:
In 1980, I quit the City of Long Beach and decided to go to nursing school. I was fed up with politics, government, all kinds of stuff. I wanted to do something that could really help people. I went to Golden West College. My first nursing job was at UCLA—the neonatal intensive-care unit—and I got the opportunity to go to Harbor/UCLA, the nurse practitioner program, working OB/GYN, family planning, that kind of thing. After doing family planning for a bit, I decided I wanted to adopt kids, so I became a licensed foster parent.

I had a big battle with the county over that because they didn't want to license a lesbian. But I never told them I was a lesbian, and they never asked.

But one day, a social worker asked me, "Do you bicycle a lot?"

"What?"

"Do you bicycle a lot?"

I said, "Yeah."

He said, "Oh, that explains what the neighbors said."

I kind of took that as code.

At first, the county wouldn't give me a full license—I'm working in neonatal nursing, and a story came out that a heterosexual foster-care couple murdered a child. I called the county and said, "Excuse me, you've been advertising for single people, and you won't license me because you think I'm gay?"

So they gave me a license, then told me I had to go find my own baby. Some social workers told me, "There are so many babies—nobody tells you to get your own baby." They brought me what turned out to be my son. After 22 months, they brought my oldest daughter. Then her birth mother became pregnant, and I had adopted my second daughter.

And then I had my telephone lines tied so they could never call me again.

*     *     *

ROUGH SEX AND POLITICS
OC WEEKLY
: What about the issue of being gay or lesbian in political campaigns?

GERRIE SCHIPSKE: Sadly, it's always been an issue. My only campaign that it wasn't an issue in was when I ran for the Long Beach City College Board of Trustees. I think because I was underestimated in terms of being able to win.

*

Just days before the March 1996 Democratic Party primary election for the California Assembly, candidate Laura Richardson—a member of the Long Beach City Council—mass-mailed a pamphlet attacking her fellow Democratic candidate for being a lesbian. The mailer accused Schipske of being "committed to the radical gay agenda" and strongly backed by ultra-liberal Santa Monica Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl, the Assembly's only openly gay member at the time. Eleven years later, when Long Beach-area Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald's death from cancer necessitated a 2007 special election to fill her seat, Richardson—recently elected to the California Assembly—declared her candidacy. So did Schipske, whose narrow election to the Long Beach City Council less than a year before had snapped a streak of close losses. She soon reconsidered, however, and withdrew from the race.

I asked Schipske about that brief candidacy in August 2011 during an interview on Greater Long Beach Radio With Dave Wielenga (on the Cal State Long Beach online station, KBEACH.org). When it was suggested that throwing her hat into the ring might have been a reflexive response after running for offices so many times, Schipske was dismissive.

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