This must not be who we are.
Imagine you are a youngster here in our community. As summer drew to a close, grandma walked you home from the local public library after the two of you enjoyed another special day learning, exploring, reading, and smiling together. You’ll be back-to-school in just two days to start fifth grade, but you excitedly tell grandma that you want to do this again every weekend, forever.
Then, the next day, you hear that someone has threatened to blow up your precious library. A bomb threat. You ask your parents, “does this mean no more weekends with grandma?” They look nervous but try to reassure you.
But on Friday, just as you’re getting excited for the weekend, the library receives another bomb threat. You know better than to ask your parents about the weekend of learning, exploring, reading, and smiling, because now you’re afraid, too. On Monday, the library is evacuated after yet another bomb threat, but this time you and your classmates are ordered to shelter-in-place for your safety.
None of these threats turn out to be real explosive devices, but the repeated, constant terror is completely unlike anything you’ve experienced in your childhood. You’re afraid to go to school, and you can’t focus on anything or anyone else. Two weeks later, your older sister has to deal with it, too, as bomb threats spread to the junior and senior high schools. Your parents take turns taking time off work, not knowing if or when school will start, but you can see how worried they are.
This week, you wake up, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, and get ready to go to school. But no, school is delayed this morning because yet another bomb threat has put your school and the library at risk. The next day, your youth soccer teammate at an elementary school out west in the rural area surrounding town calls to say that the bomb threats have spread, and they’re home waiting for school to start late, too.
Is this normal, you wonder? Fourth grade was nothing like this, but now you are facing the threat of being blown up by a bomb on a weekly basis. You knock on your big sister’s door, looking for guidance. But they don’t answer the door. They’re sometimes in tears, sometimes attending school board meetings or organizing rallies, and sometimes grappling with a fear that seems even more profound than yours. Your parents explain: the people making the bomb threats say “You will die” and “see you in hell”—and they’re talking about your sister.
Shockingly, this is happening here in our district. In the inclusive community of Davis, children, parents, and neighbors are grappling with a ceaseless campaign to terrorize them. Bomb threats began after the library ended an inflammatory Moms for Liberty presentation in the community room, and have hammered the town—especially its children—for weeks. School boards, teachers, staff, students, and parents have been on edge in Woodland and in Solano, Napa, Contra Costa, and Sacramento communities, as they face the same extreme rhetoric and veiled threats that gripped the Davis Unified School District before the rage-filled hate turned into terrorist threats. Transgender kids are in the crosshairs, their very right to exist threatened not just by vile statements but by threats to detonate deadly explosives in school after school.
This must not be who we are. Ron DeSantis isn’t the governor of Yolo, Solano, Napa, Sacramento, Sonoma, and Contra Costa counties, and Betsy DeVos isn’t in charge of our schools. Maybe we thought that the scapegoating, hate, fear, threats, and terrorism we’ve seen in other states could never happen in our communities. That LGBTQ rights, book bans, and the fundamental right of women to make their own healthcare decisions without a politician in the room are fully settled issues in our bucolic, welcoming communities.
That’s not how it works. We must stay vigilant. The hate or the opportunistic scapegoating of a vulnerable group in our community is so disgustingly intense that these antagonists feel no shame in denying an education—or just a school day or weekend at the library without fear of a bomb exploding—to all kids.
I’ve stood face-to-face against Betsy DeVos when she tried to strip trans kids of the protections that President Obama had pioneered. I fought for a national employment discrimination law that included gender identity, two decades before 80% of Democrats and Independents and 60% of Republicans came to support the idea. I helped write legislation laying the groundwork for LGBTQ rights as chief of staff to California’s second out LGBTQ legislator. As leader of America’s LGBTQ Mayors, I worked with President Obama and congressional leaders to achieve milestone advances in equality. But, in parallel with political and legal attacks on abortion and reproductive health, all the rights we labored to achieve are now at risk unless we fight back.
Polls tell us that views toward trans people are significantly determined by whether a person knows someone who is trans. We know from the successful battle for marriage equality how true this was for lesbian and gay rights—as more people knew someone who was openly gay, the more people supported their inclusion in basic human rights.
When I came out, becoming my city’s first LGBTQ elected official, I started to hear from neighbors that they, when they ultimately came out, too, their family members reacted lovingly and mentioned that they already knew someone who was gay—“our mayor”. It was a simple but powerful reminder that visibility and accessibility are the most essential path toward extending our common humanity. I was the first LGBTQ city official in the 3rd Senate District back in 2006, but our district has still never elected an LGBTQ senator, assemblymember, county supervisor, or even a second mayor.
Representation matters, not just in the abstract but also for LGBTQ kids and adults who depend on public officials for their very survival in an increasingly hostile and violent political climate. It is harder to see LGBTQ people as subhuman or “contagions” when they are visible in city halls and in the state capitol. That’s one of the reasons I’m running for the Senate, and why the LGBTQ Legislative Caucus, the Victory Fund, and Sacramento Stonewall Democrats have so strongly endorsed my candidacy.
You can help, too. Speak out at school board meetings to counter shouts of hate. Let public officials who are doing the right thing, who stand up to the violent vitriol, know that you agree with them even if you aren’t at every public hearing. Whenever trans kids and their families speak up, share their stories and make them part of yours. Vote like basic human rights are at stake…because they are. Talk to young people. And support organizations and groups that are pushing back on the well-funded extremists destabilizing our schools and communities. Groups like the Davis Phoenix Coalition, Solano Pride Center, Sacramento LGBTQ Center, LGBTQ Connection (Napa and Sonoma), and Sacramento Stonewall Democrats. There are dozens of groups in the district providing support, advocating, and organizing—one of them is near you.
Your neighbors powering this movement of inclusion need your help. Because every child and grandma should feel like the library is the best, safest place to spend a weekend together, and every child deserves an education, not bombs.