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Riverside County has its first openly LGBTQ supervisor

Riverside Press-Enterprise logo Riverside Press-Enterprise 1/13/2023 Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise

For what is believed to be the first time in Riverside County’s 129-year history, its Board of Supervisors has an openly LGBTQ member.

Yxstian Gutierrez, who was sworn in Tuesday, Jan. 10, also is the county’s second-youngest supervisor to take office, the first born in Latin America and the third to be born on foreign soil. Gutierrez, 37, moved to Moreno Valley from Venezuela at age 3.

A former Moreno Valley mayor, Gutierrez unseated incumbent Jeff Hewitt in November and now represents the Board of Supervisors’ 5th District, which encompasses the San Gorgonio Pass, Hemet, Moreno Valley and San Jacinto.

In an email, Gutierrez said his sexual orientation “wasn’t something we ran away from, but it also wasn’t something we focused on” during the campaign.

“Very few voters asked about it,” he said. “Voters wanted to know how I would improve county services, make government honest and accountable to residents, and invest in our communities.”

Being the first openly LGBTQ county supervisor, as well as the board’s second-ever Latino and an immigrant “are important milestones,” Gutierrez said.

“My perspectives are obviously influenced by a number of factors, but I think the increased diversity on the Board of Supervisors will ensure more of a focus on equity and inclusion,” he said. “Riverside County is a well-run county, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t injustices or biases related to the delivery of services that can be fixed.”

Largely — but not always — made up of White men throughout its history, the five-member board now consists of Kevin Jeffries, who is White; two Latinos in Gutierrez and V. Manuel Perez; a White woman — Karen Spiegel — and Chuck Washington, who is Black.

“Riverside County voters have elected more diverse candidates over the past decade, and I think that’s a good thing for local government,” Gutierrez said.

Latinos make up roughly 52% of the county’s 2.4 million residents. Latino lawmakers and advocates objected in 2021 when the board redrew supervisorial districts, saying the new map didn’t give Latinos a chance of fair representation. The maps are now the subject of a court battle between the county and plaintiffs, including the ACLU of Southern California.

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Gutierrez is the latest member of the LGBTQ community to win elected office in the Inland Empire.

Riverside City Councilmembers Erin Edwards and Clarissa Cervantes are LGBTQ; as is Cervantes’ sister, Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside; Assemblymember Corey Jackson, D-Perris; Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside; and Redlands City Councilmember Denise Davis.

In November, Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege fell 85 votes short in her bid to be the first openly bisexual woman in the California State Assembly. Democrat Will Rollins, who is gay, waged a well-funded but unsuccessful campaign last year against Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona.

LGBTQ advocates see progress in Gutierrez becoming a supervisor.

“Having someone that can be the voice for the LGBTQ community at that level is instrumental in providing fair and equitable services to all in our community,” said Joshua Tiedeman-Bell, vice president of the LGBTQ Center of Riverside County.

“It’s wonderful to see representation in the community,” he said. “It gives hope to our youth who need to see people of the LGBTQ community in office and in power.”

Tiedeman-Bell hopes Gutierrez can address problems facing the local LGBTQ community, including a lack of jobs and safe and affordable housing for trans people.

Last year was “historic” for LGBTQ political representation in California, with LGBTQ lawmakers now making up 10% of the legislature, said Samuel Garrett, managing director of external affairs for the LGBTQ civil rights group Equality California.

“That means that we have folks in the room when decisions are being made that impact the LGBTQ community who are in a better position to advocate for our community, to educate their colleagues in the legislature about our community, about our unique needs (and) the challenges we face,” Garrett said.

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A record number of LGTBQ Americans ran for office last year and there are more LGBTQ elected officials than ever before in U.S. history, Garrett added.

While there’s progress, “it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a lot more work to do,” Garrett said, noting that California has never had an openly trans state legislator and that Los Angeles, which had two gay city council members and a gay controller, now has no LGBTQ electeds in city government.

“That is a step backward that is going to have a real impact on LGBTQ Angelenos in the same way that the progress we make has a real impact on people’s lives,” he said.

“Progress is not linear in any movement for civil rights. And so we continue advancing equality. We continue to increase representation in government for the LGBTQ community. But we can’t ever lose sight of the goal, which is equal representation in government.”

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