By B. J. Coleman
Local leaders face off at Hillcrest event
On May 8, Gina Roberts, president of the San Diego Chapter of Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), and Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, president of San Diego Democrats for Equality went head to head at the LGBTQ Debate. Hillcrest Town Council and Trans Narratives sponsored the debate. (Due to the event date, Hillcrest Town Council cancelled its monthly meeting for May.)
Held at the San Diego LGBT Community Center in Hillcrest, roughly 60 attendees filled audience seats for the multi-hour political debate session. Both debaters focused their political perspectives and ideological views through the prism of LGBT issues and experiences. Rodriguez-Kennedy and Roberts expressed substantial areas of agreement, even though their views differed greatly on some major policy areas.
Prior to the debate, the debaters’ early point of agreement was the selection of Morgan M. Hurley — former editor of Gay San Diego and contributing editor to San Diego Uptown News — as debate moderator. Questions posed to the partisan debaters were developed from community input over two months. The program began with brief personal background information.
Rodriguez-Kennedy said that he had been homeless for a time after his discharge from the Marine Corps under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” restrictions, and that led him into politics. Roberts noted her experiences as a transgender person inspired her need to bring forward LGBT issues and presence among Republicans.
Formal debate questions kicked off with purely political topics.
“Do LGBT people need a voice still in politics?” Hurley asked.
Roberts replied yes, noting the need is more pronounced at the national level. Rodriguez-Kennedy agreed, quoting a political aphorism.
“As the saying goes, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. He described Trump administration policy as deeply anti-LGBT.
Hurley then drilled down successively into splits within the respective political parties. To Rodriguez-Kennedy, Hurley inquired about racism among Democrats. He replied that he understands racism in a systemic context and admitted a Democratic Party racial divide in San Diego County. For Roberts, Hurley posed the question of experienced transphobia.
“No, absolutely not. I’ve had 99 percent total acceptance,” Roberts said.
“Do Democrats need new leadership? How are Democratic progressives and old-schoolers getting along?” Hurley inquired.
Rodriguez-Kennedy pointed to a culture of toxicity that he believes can be overcome by bringing together all advocates of social justice causes, from all intersectional backgrounds.
“That’s the whole point of being a Democrat,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said, “We are a big tent party and solidarity is important.”
“Is LCR recognized by Republicans? Is there middle ground between LCR and religious people among GOP activists?’ Hurley asked.
Roberts assessed that the state of Texas has problem areas, with conditions similar to those in California five to seven years ago.
“We need to educate and engage,” Roberts said. “About religious conservatives versus LGBT conservatives. There is no pure party. We succeed in getting along by just doing it. We are not giving anything up.”
“What about desired changes from the respective parties?” Hurley questioned.
Roberts cited California and national GOP platform language referring to marriage as between a man and a woman. Rodriguez-Kennedy spoke of membership growth and inviting new younger voters into the progressive Democratic fold. He singled out economic justice, transportation in particular, as the biggest issue driving new and renewed political activism.
“And transgender bathroom choice, whose rights are being infringed?” Hurley asked.
“Certainly not mine. I’m going to the bathroom. If you have a problem, you’ll have to wait,” Roberts said. She explained that she had never encountered objections while at conservative organizations and only once ever in a Southern state. Rodriguez-Kennedy stated that any transphobia would be grounds for dismissal of a member of Democrats for Equality.
Roberts added that the bathroom issue is not covered in the current Republican Party-political platform, making the case that the issue has backfired and has been abandoned among the GOP.
“If it hurts to shoot yourself in the foot, quit doing it,” she said.
Hurley then addressed recent actions from local governments to respond to national-level border security policies.
Rodriguez-Kennedy praised local governments that oppose Trump administration moves toward tighter borders and tougher immigration standards.
“Local governments have a duty to protect all others,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. “We oppose splitting up families. This is a cruel policy.”
“Sanctuary cities are a bad thing. This is about criminal activities,” Roberts said in response. She drew a distinction between the City of San Diego disfavoring enhanced border security and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors opposing sanctuary cities.
“The county runs the jails,” Roberts said, “And county officers have to make reports to immigration officials.”
“Entire spectrums of the public feel they cannot come to police to report crimes because they fear deportation,” Rodriguez-Kennedy replied.
Roberts responded with another distinction. “We have to distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. The focus should be on criminals,” she said. Roberts continued that people should not fear reporting criminals such as drug lords to police. Further, she said that police should not query about immigration status for those reporting crimes.
Rodriguez-Kennedy took his argument further. “There is no fundamental difference between legal and illegal in immigration,” he said. “This is just about a piece of paper. And people on that side lump all immigrants together as unfit.”
“And about the proposed border wall?” Hurley inquired.
Roberts recounted on-scene reports from the Campo area, which she described as being totally open to cross-border traffic. She said Campo residents are reporting that after partial construction on personal properties, border-crossers who traverse landowners’ property are less desirable people, including serious criminals.
Rodriguez-Kennedy scoffed. “The real reason the wall is talked about is that it’s popular. This is all bravado. Trump likes to build big things,” he said. “This is a waste of taxpayer money and resources, when money should be spent on repairing potholes and taking care of veterans, on real bread and butter issues.”
“How untouchable is the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment?” Hurley questioned.
Roberts noted that she had recently gone to Washington, D.C., in a group of women to weigh in on behalf of firearms ownership rights.
“The Second Amendment refers to the right of the people to keep and bear arms,” Roberts said. She stated that the phrase “the people” was carefully, purposely chosen. “The people who wrote the Constitution had just beaten the most powerful nation in the world, because of individual gun ownership,” she continued. “Mass shootings are mostly in gun-free zones. Criminals don’t care that they are breaking the law by bringing a gun into a gun-free zone. A gun incident takes two to three seconds, while police response time averages 15 minutes.”
Rodriguez-Kennedy strenuously differed.
“Those were wealthy white men who wrote the Constitution,” he said. “When they wrote about the militia they meant only themselves. They had muskets then, and weapons today have advanced. This is a weird, almost treasonous belief in firearms being for overthrowing a tyrannical government. The Constitution is a living, breathing document.”
Roberts shot back figuratively. “The superior weapons for the colonists made the difference,” she said. “They could shoot British officers off their horses at a distance with their rifles. And the framers knew that technology would change. Guns can if need be put down an oppressive government.”
Hurley posed a related question about whether firearms can put down or deter anti-LGBT violence. “Concealed carry is great. People with concealed carry licenses are vetted to an incredible level,” Roberts said.
Rodriguez-Kennedy replied somberly that he had lost two friends in the Pulse nightclub shooting. “Training is not the case for everyone,” he said regarding gun use, especially widespread arming and use by the untrained public. “Any responsible person opposes that.”
The debate continued on the subject of open transgender military service. Hurley gave background on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), drawing parallels before DADT repeal to restrictions on transgender troops today. The debaters agreed on open service for transgender military personnel.
“There are deployability issues involved,” Roberts said, citing recovery from transitioning surgeries being comparable to pregnancy in affecting unit readiness and deployment, as a matter of national security.
Hurley next asked debaters to define and discuss identity politics.
“The previous party in power was aggressive in pushing us into the tiniest pieces and fragments possible,” Roberts said. “Republicans are not about breaking us up.” She expressed exasperation and frustration over being labeled a racist automatically for belonging to the GOP. “This is used to vilify everybody.”
“We are having these discussions on the Democratic politics side too. For us, this is really a civil rights issue,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. “We emphasize diversity, equity and justice. We embrace our differences and build coalitions.”
“My party believes let’s just treat everybody equally,” Roberts said. “But this is an ugly subject. There is no easy solution to it.” She favored congressional and court action on identity politics policies rather than presidential edicts. Both debaters decried the current circumstance that 34 states permit unconditional firing of LGBT employees.
Concluding comments discussed how to involve more young people in the political process. The debaters generally agreed on the topic.
“The system has failed this generation,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. “Both parties in power have been racking up debt, and economic issues are important. We’re falling behind in this generation. Our party has active outreach.” He ended by citing Democratic support for student movements as bringing many new younger voters into the ranks of Democrats.
“Across our entire party, there are amazing young people running the party,” Roberts said. “We are agreed on the national debt. Our solution as Republicans is to shrink government and allow businesses to grow by getting rid of regulations and cutting red tape.
“We are failing people. Young people are recognizing that they cannot find jobs,” she continued. “We need to change, to increase the tax base, because otherwise there are no jobs.”
[Editor’s note: Due to space constraints, this article has been shortened. Read the full article at sduptownnews.com, or in the Vol. 9, Issue 10 of our sister publication Gay San Diego at bit.ly/2Gr0oAE.]
— B. J. Coleman is a local freelance journalist and editor/staff reporter with 22nd District Legionnaire. B.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.