Every child deserves the opportunity to be seen, valued and challenged at school. To me, this simple goal is a hallmark of a just and equitable society, the kind of society I have been working to create for the last thirty years - as an activist, attorney, advocate and parent.
My vision is of schools where all of our children are encouraged to grow into their best selves - both as individuals and as members of a larger community. In the last four years we have made substantial progress toward these goals, but there is much, much more that we must achieve.
After graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a BA in environmental studies, I was invited to join a field study in Costa Rica focusing on insect-plant interactions. I spent the next four years in Central America, working on projects that focused on alternatives to pesticide use and sustainable agriculture. Working with indigenous and rural agrarian communities to implement alternatives to pesticides taught me so much not only about sustainable environmental practices, but also about listening, organizing, and the power of community.
My interest and commitment to environmental issues has remained a focus as I have moved into other advocacy areas. At the Coalition on Homelessness, we battled daily to fight the link between poverty and pollution. As a member of the Board of Ella Baker Center, we created programs focused on building an inclusive green economy. And at the Community Housing Partnership we were at the vanguard of incorporating green building practices into affordable, supportive housing.
As a school board trustee, I have continued working with my colleagues to implement practices that are not only environmentally sound, but that also teach our children about the importance of being good stewards of our environment.
Our democracy relies on civic involvement - I believe it will require all of our commitment if we are to become the society we believe in. After returning to the Bay Area to attend the Hastings/UC Berkeley joint degree program in Law and City and Regional Planning, I was immediately struck by the glaring injustice of chronic homelessness, and homeless advocacy became a major focus. I was awarded a National Association for Public Interest Equal Justice Fellowship, which allowed me to develop a civil rights position with the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, integrating legal strategies in a grassroots organization. In addition to my work at the Coalition, I helped create and then served on the Board of Directors of the Community Housing Partnership, which builds and manages both supported and independent housing for formerly homeless people.
Through my work on homeless advocacy, I also became involved in criminal justice reform and governmental transparency, serving on the Board of Directors of Ella Baker Center, National Lawyer’s Guild, Media Alliance and the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.
As my life continued to evolve, I became intimately aware of the challenges facing the LGBT community. My partner, Alison Bernstein and I were early leaders in the gay marriage movement, getting married (for the first time) in 1996, again in 2004 when Mayor Newsom legalized gay marriage, and finally in 2013, during the Prop 8 “window”. When we had our kids, we also joined the growing movement to win equality for our families, pushing for inclusion in our schools and social welfare programs.
After receiving my J.D., I worked for ten years as a civil rights attorney, first at the Coalition on Homelessness, and then at the Drug Policy Alliance. At the Coalition, I was involved in both direct advocacy as well as impact litigation, working closely with the Northern California ACLU, the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and private law firms to afford the poorest and most desperate among us their basic civil rights. At the Drug Policy Alliance, my focus was on reducing the harm caused by drug enforcement policies aimed at communities of color, and in particular women.
I have spent over a decade supporting LGBTQ families as the Executive Director of Our Family Coalition. Under my leadership, OFC worked throughout California to create LGBTQ-welcoming and inclusive schools, introducing the Welcoming Schools guide so that schools are safe for all children. We support parents/caregivers and their children through over 150 events each year. One of the events that I am most proud of is our annual LGBTQ family night at the Berkeley Downtown YMCA, which just celebrated its 18th year this past March.
I have been deeply involved in the implementation of the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act, which updates the educational guidelines to ensure that LGBT people are included in a fair and accurate way in our teaching of history and social movements. This, along with our work in elementary schools, helps make safer learning environments for queer youth. By normalizing the contributions of LGBTQ people in the history of our state, country and the world, the FAIR Education Act will play a critical role in ending stigma and creating a more equitable world.
Over the past three years we have also been involved in several important pieces of legislation that impact LGBT people and families. OFC sponsored the Modern Family Act (making it easier and less expensive for gays and lesbians to adopt), a bill paving the way for secured parental rights with home insemination, and a bill that requires the collection of data on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in four large statewide departments. I am committed not only to help pass good laws, but to doing what I can to make sure that they are fully and fairly implemented. I am currently co-leading a workgroup on the implementation of AB959, the SOGI data law.
Educational equity has become my passion, and I am now bringing my skills to help further school-based health as the Executive Director of the California School-Based Health Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health and academic success of children and youth by advancing school-based health care. I am proud to play a role in working toward a future when all students have access to the health services they need to be successful in school. School-based health care includes programs such as school-based health centers (SBHCs), mental health services, dental programs, school nursing, and mobile programs, all critical for the well-being of our students.
My life’s work reflects not only my commitment to creating a more just and equitable society, but my willingness to stand up for those who frequently have no voice. Whether it is fighting to protect the rights of the poorest in our streets or supporting the rights of all LGBTQ people to create families, I will bring all I have to the fight to ensure that rights are protected and each and every one of us is given an opportunity to grow and thrive.
As a member of the Berkeley School Board, I have been honored to serve this community and to work with the community to find smart, innovative and effective approaches to the daunting task of educating our diverse student body for the challenges of the 21st century.
I am proud to have worked closely with the Berkeley community to make Berkeley Unified School District the first in the nation to formally adopt Welcoming Schools as an anti-bullying LGBTQ inclusive curriculum for all elementary schools in the district. This success followed four years of organizing with over 120 families, educators, administrators and community members. We worked closely with both classified and the certificated (teacher) employee unions, the superintendent and the board. We are very proud that BUSD is a beacon of this work around the nation.
Raising children is the most celebrated and important thing I have done. I can’t imagine anything more joyful, daunting and exhilarating than parenting. As a parent I understand the leap of faith we all place in our schools, and how important it is that we, as parents, have faith that our children are seen and cherished.