Soapbox

Why Democrats should not give a pass to Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia on homophobic slurs

An Assembly investigation did not corroborate allegations that Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia drunkenly groped a former legislative staff member, according to both the Bell Gardens Democrat and the man who accused her.
An Assembly investigation did not corroborate allegations that Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia drunkenly groped a former legislative staff member, according to both the Bell Gardens Democrat and the man who accused her. AP file

A couple weeks ago, my 13-year-old daughter found a homophobic slur scribbled in her textbook. I wanted to tell her things will get better — that there's no place for language like that and that whoever wrote the word will understand someday.

But how can I tell her that when a state Assemblywoman has repeatedly used homophobic slurs to describe her colleagues? Worse, how do I tell her that Californians don't accept that type of behavior when that legislator’s party is willing to give her a pass?

Rick Zbur.JPG
Rick Zbur

That's what the California Democratic Party did last week by backing Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens. Even an in-kind donation of poll results – not given to her Democratic opponents — is deeply inappropriate.

For months, the Legislature has been investigating allegations that Garcia sexually harassed and assaulted legislative staff. If the allegations are true, she should immediately resign or be expelled.

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But we already know that she used homophobic slurs — in front of LGBTQ staff, no less — to describe former Speaker John Perez, the first openly gay Assembly speaker. We also don't need to wait for the results of an investigation to know that Garcia made reprehensible comments about Asian Americans.

Garcia acknowledges that these weren't isolated incidents. She has repeatedly used the word "homo" and language she calls "candid." She excused this behavior by saying she isn't "an angel" and that she believed she was in a "safe space." But how safe can such a space be, given the repeated use of language that dehumanizes not only her targets but also LGBTQ staff?

We've seen a rise in homophobic, misogynistic and racist rhetoric condoned by the Trump administration — hate speech that is unacceptable coming from anyone, let alone elected representatives. Democratic leaders have strongly condemned President Trump's offensive language and behavior. But they lose their moral authority when they fail to apply the same standard to allies.

The in-kind contribution from a party that prides itself on supporting the LGBTQ community and communities of color suggests that Garcia's actions don't matter -- and that the legislative staff subjected to her derogatory language don't matter, either. It sends a message to the Capitol community and to Californians that party affiliation matters more than conduct.

I refuse to accept that message.

We hoped that both parties would spend their resources to support candidates who haven't used such derogatory language and who haven't been accused of sexual harassment and assault. And we at Equality California continue to believe that Garcia's behavior — regardless of the outcome of the investigation — makes her unfit for elected office.

Rick Zbur is executive director of Equality California, the nation's largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization. He can be contacted at rick@eqca.org.
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