A Call to Action
guest commentary by Dennis Mangers
printed September 14, 2023
There’s an old saying that suggests you are not paranoid if they really are out to get you. I am writing this because, dear members of Sacramento’s LGBTQ family, it’s clear from what’s going on around us today, that they really are out to get us. Again! Still!
In the late 70’s I had the honor to arrive in Sacramento as a Democratic member of the California State Assembly representing coastal Orange County. And while I was still coming to terms with my own orientation epiphany at the time, I could see what the extreme right had in mind for those in the community I was soon to join.
It was a time when Republican Senator John Briggs of Orange County was promoting Proposition 6, calculated to prevent homosexuals from teaching in California schools. Other republican members like Senator John Schmitz and Assemblymember Robert Dannemeyer, cited scripture on the floors of their respective houses to rail against any legislative effort on behalf of our community.
Here in Sacramento, there were no protective ordinances, and our people could be fired without cause or denied an apartment simply because they were perceived to be gay.
When we formed in 1984 what would ultimately become the Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus, we couldn’t use the word “gay” in the title because many of us were teachers and school principals and in other sensitive professions and were afraid for our personal and professional lives.
During the early dark days of HIV/AIDS there were extremists calling for those living and dying from the disease to be rounded up and quarantined, fanning the fires of fear and hysteria.
In the face of relentless attacks from the right, many among us rose to the occasion and began building a political infrastructure here in Sacramento designed to empower and engage the LGBTQ community.
At the State level we formed what we called “The Capitol Network” consisting mostly of gay legislative and gubernatorial staffers, agency personnel and lobbyists. We met secretly in my offices in the old Senator Hotel building and with the guidance of brilliant gay leaders like Stan Hadden, aide to Senate Pro Tem David Roberti, and others, we began to advise and support friendly legislators as they developed legislation to decriminalize our relationships and to weave a protective fabric around our community.
We promoted one of our own, Rand Martin, as the first openly gay lobbyist on behalf of our statewide objectives. And we formed CAP/PAC as the first LGBTQ political action committee in Sacramento which began working to elect LGBTQ people to elected office while making significant contributions to allies working on our behalf.
Locally, many of our men and women formed the “River City Democratic Club”, the precursor to today’s Stonewall Democratic Club. Those heroes of our political evolution set about to promote ordinances in Sacramento that would begin to provide the protections needed for our people to gradually start easing out of their (our)closets and asserting their rights. They became involved in the complicated business of re-districting that helped lead to the election of our first openly gay member of Sacramento’s City Council, Steve Hansen, who is now running to be our first openly gay Mayor.
When HIV/AIDs appeared on the scene, with its almost overnight devastating impact on our community, our people and so many caring allies stepped forward and formed the “Sacramento AIDS Foundation” and “CARES”, promoting and funding care, services and research on behalf of our stricken, mostly young men.
One of our most politically savvy and capable local women, Laurie Mc bride, stepped forward and became the State’s first AIDS lobbyist for what was called “The Life Lobby”. Her service and impact will long be remembered by those of us who struggled to bring our community out of the shadows and into the fulness of our rights under the law.
I cite this history in brief, because once again, the barbarians are at the gates!
In their historically cyclical and dependable pattern, the right has come to the fore again under the demagogic goading of the orange one and his many cultish acolytes.
They are attacking us all over the nation. They are going after our beloved drag queens, they are attacking teachers and librarians and seeking to ban books that tell of our history, our struggle and our heroes.
They are systematically infiltrating our school boards, local city councils and Boards of Supervisors.
Hate crimes in this country and here locally have risen astronomically and just a short time ago, a beautiful ally was shot down by a right-wing fanatic for simply displaying a pride flag in front of her store.
It’s not just us of course! As always, they are attacking Jews, women, people of color, immigrants and other marginalized minorities as they themselves slip inexorably into the minority of a country they seem to believe belongs only to them.
It is past time for us to realize we are currently the frogs in warming water, seemingly unaware of our impending boiling.
Many in our community, especially our younger members, have grown complacent in a city and its environs made relatively safe by those who came before them.
We party, we sing, we play organized sports and generally live the lives we deserve.
But, if we hope to continue to enjoy our place in the sun, we are going to have to engage politically to protect our advances and to ensure our future.
The right is moving on all our institutions with one goal. To erase us publicly and erode our public support by branding us as “groomers and pedophiles”.
They call us “Woke”. But what we’re really doing is “awakening”.
We are awakening to the reality that they are once again out to get us, and we need to engage as our leaders have in the past.
No matter how turned off we may be to the ugliness and polarization of today’s politics, we are in a place where, frankly, it’s a case of getting into politics or surrendering to the victimhood that lies ahead.
All of us need to become advocates for our special family and the rights we’ve fought so hard to attain. During the AIDS crisis we used the slogan “Silence=Death “which is still relevant today.
Each of us must determine how we will speak and act out in the face of the assaults aimed at our community.
But in the meantime, we have many among us who have felt called to step out and do the hard work on our behalf every day of their lives and they deserve our support.
At the national level we are strongly represented by the Human Rights Campaign and at the state level our rights are aggressively championed by Equality California. Locally, our Stonewall Democratic Club engages at all levels of government, following legislation and promoting supportive candidates for public office.
In a perfect world we would all join and become activists in organizations like these and others, but at the very least, every one of us should be making monthly contributions of whatever size meets our budget to those willing to do the work on our behalf. Please join forces with each of these organizations as soon as possible.
When you join any, or all of them as my husband and I have done, you will begin receiving information, not just about the sinister things affecting us here and out there, but also what you personally can do about them.
Personal engagement, guided by our lawyers and leaders, arms and engages us in this war we did not start but have no intention of losing.
For most of my personal and political career I have been motivated by these ten little two letter words:
If it is to be, it is up to me!
Simply stated, it is up to each of us, in solidarity with others of like purpose, to stand against the forces of hatred and intolerance that seek to eradicate years of hard-fought progress and send us back into the closets of shame and fear.
THIS IS A CALL TO ACTION!
Dennis Mangers (Denny)is a former teacher, school principal, corporate vice president, legislator, lobbyist and long-time community activist. He recently retired as Senior Advisor to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg. He is married to local lighting designer, Michael Sestak and has two children and two grandchildren.