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

"That wasn't reflexive," she said. "If you've ever run for public office, you know it's a really exhausting experience, not only for yourself, but also for your family and friends. It's something you always weigh very carefully."

Schipske was silent for a second or so. "But speaking of reflexive," she resumed, "my reflexive nature in that situation was more motivated by the opportunity to run against Laura Richardson than that the position opened. My contention and that of my supporters was that I had come so close to beating [the late Republican Congressman Steve] Horn in 1996 that I could easily, easily defeat Laura Richardson, so that's what I was weighing. Ultimately, I was asked by the Democratic Party to step aside so that [the late state Senator] Jenny Oropeza could run, so I did."

On June 11, 1996, the Long Beach City Council was well into a discussion of domestic partnerships (limited legal recognition for couples, regardless of sex) when Councilmember Jerry Shultz of North Long Beach's Ninth District signaled that he had something to say. For the next 17 minutes, Shultz stunned everybody with an address that still stands as the most sexually explicit, relentlessly cruel, socially deviant and personally indulgent in the history of that council chamber. Shultz, who was also a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, shared his philosophy on the human sex drive, describing it as a powerful instinct that "may become inappropriately affixed to underwear, corpses, animals, children, footstools and members of the same sex."

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

Pleasing only himself and insulting others for maximum effect, Shultz linked the gay residents of Long Beach to bizarre sex acts and "immoral behavior." His diatribe shopped around the fringes of sexual practices, periodically picking out something for an exploration that dwelt lasciviously on the moistest details. At one point, Shultz paused to pose a question for class(less) discussion: "What do we say to the man who leads his favorite ewe down the aisle, demanding recognition and acceptance of his attraction to a female sheep?" Neither the City Council nor the Human Relations Commission mustered the votes to censure Shultz, who adamantly refused to apologize.

*

GERRIE SCHIPSKE: Jerry Shultz is now my constituent in the Fifth District. Another former councilmember, Doug Drummond, wanted to quarantine gays in camps for having AIDS. He's in my district, too. You know, when you are elected, you are an elected official for everyone. Makes the case for tenacity. If you stick with who you are, things come around and people finally get it, and I think that's what's happened in Long Beach.

That even happened for gays and lesbians. There's a split. Still some of it—whether or not we should push for marriage equality—part of it is "Whoa! Whoa!" This is really pushing something to its ultimate conclusion that no one—I think, in my age group—ever thought would happen. We just went through the whole battle of domestic partners. From that into marriage. I'm glad they're doing it. The people who pushed it were right.

OC WEEKLY: Did you have reservations?

No! You know, I came from a traditional Catholic family, and I didn't think this would ever happen or ever be a possibility. There's a spectrum of beliefs and ideas in the community. I'm grateful they pushed it forward because I think it not only pushed that issue, but it also pushed the rest of the stuff that would have taken years and years. This is the argument hopefully that the Supreme Court deals with it now. Because if they don't and let it go state by state, we will be fighting this battle state by state—and not just about marriage, but the whole issue of equality, discrimination. It needs to get out of the way.

*     *     *

'A FEDERALLY CERTIFIED, DULY SWORN LESBIAN'
My cell phone rings from across the room, probably too far across the room to reach before . . . damn, what is it about this ringtone that always starts the dog howling? Naturally, the call's important—Gerrie Schipske's on the line—but now the other two dogs have joined the high, lonesome holler. "Hmmm. I . . . wonder . . . what . . . I . . . should—Too late! The call's gone to voicemail. And later, while the dog's asleep, I retrieve that message.

*

GERRIE SCHIPSKE: I'm going to quickly tell you a story that I forgot to tell you: That I'm a duly sworn lesbian! Federally certified!

In 1996, I was a national finalist for a White House Fellowship—this was during the Clinton administration—and they were doing my top-secret clearance. I had a little law office at the time, and they came to my office—two investigators—and asked me who Flo Pickett was, and I said she and I owned a home together.

And they said, "Well, we have found out that you are lesbians."

And I said, "Uh-huh, we are. . . . Is that a problem?"

She said, "Well, you didn't say you are a lesbian."

I said, "You didn't ask about it in any of the 22 pages I had to fill out."

Finally, they made me stand up—they actually made me stand—at my desk and swear under penalty of perjury that I was gay, and that although I had not told them I was a lesbian, I had not been trying to keep it from them.

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