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From our archives: ‘West Sac mayor ends his silence – he’s gay’

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon recently appeared onstage at the announcement of the presidential candidacy of Pete Buttigieg, who is gay. Marcos Bretón’s April 21 column talks about what this means to Cabaldon, and recalls when the West Sacramento mayor announced he was gay. Here’s that story from The Sacramento Bee, March 30, 2006:

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon has anxiously kept his sexual orientation a secret his entire political career.

He broke his silence on the subject Wednesday night at the annual State of the City dinner at West Sacramento City Hall.

“The pressure and the stigma and sometimes the all too casual bigotry in this town made it painfully clear when I first ran for office that I could either serve this community or I could be a gay man. But I could not be both,” Cabaldon said.

His disclosure – planned well in advance – concluded a speech focusing on levees, “walkable” communities and schools. After celebrating the accomplishments of the city and discussing the future, he disclosed that he was gay.

Cabaldon said he decided to disclose he’s gay to make it easier for other gays and lesbians wrestling with making their sexual orientation public.

In an interview this week, Cabaldon said when he began his political career, he thought he couldn’t disclose the matter. So rather than lead a double life or a secret life, Cabaldon said he decided he couldn’t have a personal life.

“Nobody could really out me before because I wasn’t dating,” said Cabaldon. “I’m still not dating or anything like that.”

His heartfelt address Wednesday night brought the crowd of 150 developers, business and political leaders to a standing ovation, some with tears in their eyes.

Developer Bryan Taylor said, “We couldn’t be more proud of our mayor.”

The 41-year-old mayor’s unusual “coming out” will be carried in documentary form on an MTV Networks cable channel featuring gay-themed programming. A crew working for the Logo channel has been shadowing Cabaldon for the better part of a week. The program is expected to air in July.

It’s not every day a sitting elected official tells the public: “I’m gay.”

While the number of openly gay elected officials has increased in recent years, both nationally and within California, most of California’s gay politicians represent solidly liberal coastal towns. Most, however, have made their orientation known before they run for office.

Six members of the California Legislature have disclosed they are gay: Assemblymen Mark Leno of San Francisco and John Laird of Santa Cruz; Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg of Los Angeles; and state Sens. Christine Kehoe of San Diego, Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica and Carole Migden of San Francisco.

Leno said voters respect honesty. “I think his (Cabaldon’s) constituents should applaud him and support him because I think we want nothing less in our public officials than being truthful in their public offices as well as in their private lives,” he said.

Leno, who has been openly gay since age 18, said there is a big difference between his electorate - which has a history of supporting gay candidates – and West Sacramento.

West Sacramento voted Democratic in the last presidential election, but not in the numbers of Davis and San Francisco residents.

In the 2004 presidential election, 53 percent of West Sacramento voters supported the Democratic candidate John Kerry, compared with 74 percent of Davis voters and 83 percent of San Francisco voters.

Cabaldon becomes the state’s fourth elected openly gay mayor currently in office, according to Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund in Washington, D.C.

“A very solid and strong majority (of voters) are willing to vote for openly gay politicians,” said Robin Brand, the group’s senior vice president.

When the Victory Fund was formed 1991 there were 49 openly gay elected officials nationwide; that number is now up to 356, she said.

A recent survey of California voters showed that they are more accepting of homosexual relationships, as more and more residents personally know someone who is gay or lesbian.

In the Field Poll telephone survey, released earlier this month, 43 percent of respondents said homosexual relations between consenting adults is “not wrong at all,” compared to 32 percent who said such relationships are “always wrong.”

In a 1997 survey, 38 percent answered “not wrong,” with 45 percent answering “always wrong.” While changing public attitudes may make it easier for some to tell the world they are gay, many – like Cabaldon – agonize over the decision for many years.

Cabaldon said he told his father he was gay two years ago.

Through high school and college, Cabaldon, a Los Angeles native, said he tried to be straight – dating women, never men. Sometime after finishing his master’s degree in public policy, Cabaldon said he came to terms with his sexuality.

But by that time he was already active in politics and in his mind being in politics meant you weren’t openly gay.

“I was resistant to the idea that I could be gay because it would have such ramifications on what I wanted to do with my life,” Cabaldon said.

So Cabaldon poured himself into his work.

He was first elected to West Sacramento’s City Council in 1996, becoming mayor in 1998. He is credited with helping to bring the River Cats minor league baseball team to the city, pushing through a deal to save the Port of Sacramento from financial disaster and helping to craft a regional growth plan.

Professionally, he serves as the president of EdVoice, a statewide education lobbying group.

Cabaldon said he was inspired by seeing the mayor of Providence, R.I., attend public events with his partner.

He also said his decision was sparked by a show on Logo – which has programs on gay and lesbian themes – about coming out. He wrote a late-night e-mail to the show’s producers, who decided to follow him this week.

“The prospect of more kids and young people making the same choice because they didn’t have any more accessible gay and lesbian role models in politics made it important for me to come out,” Cabaldon said.

The cameraman and sound technician/director have been at his side as he found the nerve to deliver the news to a wider circle of friends and associates. Among them was a group of Filipino women, said Cabaldon, who is of Filipino descent.

Seth Kilbourn, political director of Equality California, said Cabaldon’s decision will have a positive effect.

“Having more openly gay elected officials helps others come out,” Kilbourn said. “People come out for a lot of reasons, but living openly and honestly is a basic human desire. People come out so they can lead their lives in a way that is not hiding a part of who they are.”

Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan, a former West Sacramento mayor, said locals won’t be distracted by Cabaldon’s news.

“We are more concerned about the good work that you do than what kind of label you put on yourself,” McGowan said of West Sacramento residents in a phone interview. “I say bravo to him for having the courage to do this.”

Cabaldon said voters know what he stands for.

“I haven’t changed,” Cabaldon said. “I’m just telling them one more thing about me.”