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Meet Trans lesbian Lisa Middleton, newly elected to all-LGBT Palm Springs City Council

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Lisa Middleton (Photo courtesy Lisa Middleton)

Three weeks before the Nov. 7 elections, former Republican President George W. Bush delivered a speech lamenting the “casual cruelty” that has degraded discourse since Donald Trump became president. “Bigotry seems emboldened,” Bush said. “There are some signs that the intensity of support for democracy itself has waned.”

Anti-LGBT hate crime statistics back him up, with data collected by law enforcement show underscoring the epidemic of anti-transgender violence. On Nov. 13, the FBI released their hate crime statistics for 2016 showing a five percent increase from 2015, including a nine percent increase of hate crime incidents based on gender identity. On Nov. 16, Los Angeles County released their hate crime report showing 31 reported anti-trans hate crimes— a 72% increase from the previous year. “We reviewed the number of anti-transgender hate crimes reported for the past ten years and this was by far the largest number,” out LA County Human Relations Commissioner Marshall Wong told the Los Angeles Blade.

And yet, staring down the ugly face of hate, eight trans candidates were elected across the country on Nov. 7, a vote for civility.

Lisa Middleton’s election to the Palm Springs City Council makes her the first out trans person elected to a non-judicial office in California— Victoria Kolakowski was elected the nation’s first trans judge in 2010. But it also marks a major shift in political attitudes. Once the bastion of conservative country club Republicans such as Ronald Reagan, Gerald and Betty Ford, Sonny and Mary Bono—Palm Springs is now America’s first LGBT-run city government.

Middleton came out publicly as transgender in 1995. She met Cheryl O’Callaghan in 2000 and 17 years later, they are a married lesbian couple, “with a little bit of a twist in one of our histories.” They have two adult children.

Middleton also identifies as a career professional and community activist. For 36 years, she worked with the State Compensation Insurance Fund of California and was Senior Vice President of Internal Affairs when she retired.

Middleton comes from a family of sharecroppers who left Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. She attended East Los Angles College, graduated from UCLA and received a Masters in Public Administration from USC. In addition to government service, she worked with the Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs, serving as chair from 2015-2017, and served on city planning commission and task forces concerned with homelessness and government transparency.

“I have been very proud to be out as a transgender individual but I had a career,” Middleton tells the LA Blade. “I was in an executive position within the State of California. So at the time I came out, I had responsibility and involvement that went beyond the fact that I was transgender.”

But she also helped advance the trans movement in California. In the mid-1990s, out San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno proposed a trans-inclusive healthcare policy for employees of the City and County of San Francisco. At the time, insurance policies nationwide had standard exclusions barring transgender healthcare. Because of her knowledge of insurance systems, she helped the person struggling most with the proposed change—the city’s actuary.

“I was able to sit down with him and talk him through transgender 101,” Middleton recalls. “And then, in terms an actuary could understand, I talked about how to make projections as to what the actual costs would be. I was convinced he overestimated the projected costs—but it wasn’t an unreasonable estimate and it wasn’t an estimate that would cause people to say we can’t afford it.”

So, she continues, “a lot of the work I’ve been able to do as someone who is transgender hasn’t been the person knocking down the barricades as an activist leading the charge. But as someone who proudly is transgender and is able to communicate across the spectrum in all kinds of environments and situations from neighborhood meetings to planning meetings to sitting down with an actuary trying to figure out a financial cost estimate.”

Middleton is very cognizant of the issues around trans employment. “Until individuals have economic security, they’re not in a position to fully exercise their other legal rights,” she says, adding she will do “everything I can” to help.

“One of the things that our community faces in employment is lot of appearance discrimination,” Middleton says. “Women have been judged for years based on appearances before they are judged based on their intelligence and their capacity to do work. And some of that discrimination falls more heavily on a transgender population. Transgender women tend to be taller, heavier than those that are not. Transgender men tend to be slighter.”

What can be done about that? “One of the things I have done is be very good at what I do,” Middleton says, emphasizing “very good” over the phone. “You can break down barriers. Attitudes make a big difference. So I feel very proud that as a transgender woman I have had the opportunity to succeed in government service and then to succeed in community and neighborhood relationships and programs and that’s now afforded me the opportunity to serve on city council.”

Middleton says her job will be tending to the city’s needs. “And none of those issues are defined by gender or by sexuality. They’re defined by your capacity to reach out, form consensus, and develop public policy programs that will succeed.”

But to the LGBT community, her very presence combats hate.

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Palm Springs

Longtime LGBTQ+ journalist & editor Thomas Senzee dies at 54

Thomas Senzee was a California native whose award winning career spanned nearly thirty years in media with focus on the LGBTQ+ community

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Thomas Senzee at San Diego Pride in 2012 (Thomas Senzee/Facebook)

PALM SPRINGS – The former Editor-In-Chief of the San Diego LGBT Weekly webzine and frequent contributor to The San Diego Reader, an alternative press newspaper, has died at age 54.

Thomas Senzee, a California native whose award winning career spanned nearly thirty years in media, writing for outlets including The Huffington Post, The Advocate/OUT, The Fight Magazine, The Washington Blade, The Los Angeles Business Journal and other publications, was found deceased on Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Palm Springs.

The Coroner’s Bureau of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has listed his death as undetermined pending further investigation by the Coroner’s office.

Senzee served on the board of directors of the San Diego Press Club, and was that organization’s Professional Development Committee chair. He was also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Los Angeles Press Club and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, the chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party and a Civil Service Commissioner with the County of San Diego government paid tribute to Senzee;

“I am saddened to hear about the passing of Thom Senzee the former editor-in-chief of LGBT Weekly. I met Thom a little over a decade ago and worked as one of his reporters and social media director. I learned a lot from him as he took me under his wing and educated me. He was kind, thorough, dedicated to the truth, and he always challenged me to do my best on every story,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said adding;

“He was an award winning veteran journalist with over 30 years of experience writing and editing for a number of news organizations and served on the board of directors of the San Diego Press Club. He would check in with me from time to time as the years went on. Rest In Peace, my friend.”

Veteran LGBTQ+ correspondent and former editor of The Los Angeles Blade, Karen Ocamb, marked Senzee’s passage writing:

“Thom Senzee was indefatigable. He loved the news. He loved journalists reporting the news. And he especially loved LGBTQ reporters and media personalities putting their spin on news about LGBTQ people and the ongoing issue of AIDS. Several times he invited me to sit on panels he created in conjunction with the Los Angeles Press Club. As host, Thom would throw out a question like: ‘Have sexual orientation and gender identity become non-issues?’ and then let actors Jason Stuart and the late Alexis Arquette and me vie for ‘air time’ in response. It was a hoot – and informative. And family. We need more folks like Thom Senzee. He will be missed.” 

Senzee is survived by a brother and two sisters. The family has started a GoFundMe page to defray funeral expenses and would appreciate any donations to help with his funeral/memorial costs

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Palm Springs

Trans Palm Springs Mayor responds to anti-LGBTQ+ Texas Governor

“I am in awe of the transgender children and their parents that I meet. Spend 10 minutes with them and you will be as well”

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Lisa Middleton and Christy Holstege (Courtesy of Lisa Middleton)

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Mayor Lisa Middleton of the City of Palm Springs delivered a powerful rebuke to Texas Governor Greg Abbott Thursday evening, just two days after the governor issued a dangerous directive to state agencies to begin investigating and prosecuting parents of transgender children for “child abuse.”

Middleton made history in 2017, when she became the first openly transgender person elected to political office in California, and again in December 2021, when she was sworn in as the Golden State’s first openly transgender mayor.

Mayor Middleton’s moving remarks, were delivered at the beginning of tonight’s Palm Springs City Council meeting, are available for download here, in addition to the following transcript:

I am very proud to be the Mayor of the City of Palm Springs. We are an imperfect, but unique city, and for generations we have been a place of refuge and renewal. It is in that spirit of our city and our history that I must say something this evening.

On Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a directive to state agencies to investigate and prosecute the parents of transgender children and their healthcare givers. He has labeled the parents of transgender children — who support their children on their journey to be the best and whole person that they can be — to be child abusers.

Texas district attorneys are uncertain or of mixed opinions on what new directives mean. But there are reports of parents already, who are supportive of their transgender children, who are fearful that they could have their children removed from their homes and placed in foster care. The University Transgender Health Center in metropolitan Dallas has closed.

Please try to understand what it means to be the parent of a transgender child. Please imagine the tears throughout the family as your child told you their truth — their most difficult, essential and personal truth. A truth unlike anything you had ever known. You had a choice — can I and do I stand with my child? You made the choice to stand up for your child, to give your child the best opportunity to be the best person they could be.

And the governor of the State of Texas wants to prosecute you for standing up for your child. The governor of the State of Texas wants to turn your neighbors into his enforcement arm.

Please try to imagine what it is like for the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents of a transgender child tonight in the State of Texas. Can you imagine the heartache, the questions of what can we do, what should we do, what will the State of Texas do, and where do we go? Now, try to imagine the transgender child in that family and what their heart is telling them as they watch every person they love in agony and anger.

Family comes first. It is not an idle statement. It is what we all know — when no matter what else is before us, if we have to choose, we choose family. Well, if not in Texas, in Palm Springs, we stand with transgender children and their families.

I know all of the stories. I know all of the explanations. I have lived this life. We are who we are. You cannot change a child into someone they are not. But what you can do, and what this will do, is break their spirit.

I know. I am today a transgender woman. But while I have always been and will always be transgender, I have never had the opportunity to be a transgender child. Because I wasn’t brave enough to come out. I wasn’t brave like the transgender children in Texas, or Florida or South Dakota or Missouri — or like those here in California.

They and their parents have shown bravery and courage that is unimaginable to me when I was their age — and they’ve done so in the face of dangerous and discriminatory attacks.

I am in awe of the transgender children and their parents that I meet. Spend 10 minutes with them — any one of them — and you will be as well.

I have, from the City of Palm Springs, a message to transgender children and their families everywhere:

You are loved. You are supported. You are respected. And you will always have a home in the City of Palm Springs. You will always have a home in California. Thank you.

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Palm Springs

Historic swearing in of Lisa Middleton as Palm Springs Mayor

Middleton will become the first out transgender mayor in California and just the third out transgender mayor in U.S. history

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Palm Springs City Councilmembers Lisa Middleton and Christy Holstege (Photo courtesy Equality California)

PALM SPRINGS –  City Councilwoman Lisa Middleton will be sworn-in as Palm Springs mayor on Thursday. Middleton will become the first out transgender mayor in California and just the third out transgender mayor in U.S. history. The mayor’s office in Palm Springs rotates among councilmembers who serve one-year terms.

Middleton – who became the the first out transgender person elected to a non-judicial position in California in 2017 with the support of Equality California and Victory Fund – is also running for the state senate in 2022 and is endorsed by both organizations. She will be the first out transgender state legislator in California history if she wins.

LGBTQ Victory Fund and Equality California jointly praised the news Wednesday.

“Lisa’s elevation to mayor is a milestone moment for California, but also for trans people across the nation who want to make positive change through public service,” said Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund. “While hateful politicians attempt to vilify trans people for their own perceived political gain, Lisa is the model of a true public servant – one who lifts people up and focuses on issues that actually improve people’s lives. Lisa is a trailblazer who will be a fantastic mayor and we are excited for her to shatter another lavender ceiling with a state senate win in 2022.”

“Lisa Middleton has been a transformational trailblazer, and we’re proud to be by her side as she makes history again — this time as California’s first out transgender mayor,” said Equality California Executive Director Tony Hoang. “Just as important as the powerful representation she’s provided, Lisa has been a champion for bold solutions to the big challenges Palm Springs faces — housing affordability, access to affordable healthcare, support for our elders, the climate crisis and more. We know that Lisa will continue to be champion for the Coachella Valley and all Californians when she is elected to the California Senate next year.”

Currently there are just 42 out trans people serving in the entire country and only six are in California. There are no currently serving out trans mayors, however Stu Rasmussen previously served as mayor of Silverton, Oregon, and Jess Herbst as mayor of New Hope, Texas. Only one out trans person has ever been elected to a state senate in the U.S. – Sarah McBride of Delaware.

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