I was Scott Wiener’s Youth Commissioner, And I’m Endorsing Jane Kim

Left to Right: Angel VanStark, Jane Kim, Bao Nguyen, and William Walker

The decision of who to support in the State Senate District 11 race should be an easy one for me. As a queer youth who has been active in LGBTQ advocacy in San Francisco, many would expect me to support Supervisor Scott Wiener who both represents the city’s largest and most active queer neighborhood and is gay himself. In fact, it should be a no-brainer because I was actually Scott’s Youth Commissioner from 2013–2014. Scott shouldn’t just get my support — he should be my role model.

But I’m not supporting Scott. I’m proudly endorsing Jane Kim for State Senate.

I’m standing with Jane Kim because of her record, her compassion, her tenacity, and her intelligence. Specifically, her work to help homeless youth has been inspiring and thoughtful with an eye for real solutions that will actually help young people get off the streets and live their lives.

White House Conference on Ending Youth Homelessness (Angel VanStark, 2nd to left)

When I first came to San Francisco, I was homeless. During my first few nights in a shelter, I watched a dead man’s body get carried out at 3am in the morning. A man who’s haunting blue-eyes, I will never forget. This is the reality of homelessness, the one that is hidden away by politics and divisive rhetoric.

I was fortunate enough to find the SF LGBT Center that helped me get back on my feet.

I appreciate the work Scott has done in the LGBTQ community and in particular with helping to open the SF LGBT Center. This Center has been an important resource for many like me.

But I cannot support Scott, because his work for the LGBTQ community falls short when it comes to the 40% of homeless youth that identify as LGBTQ or the 29% of homeless adults that also identify as LGBTQ, in comparison to the 4% of the general population that identify as LGBTQ.

Even before I became his Youth Commissioner, I was troubled by his work to get rid of the benches at Harvey Milk Plaza. This historic space where queer youth organized to get Harvey Milk into office was one of the only safe spaces for homeless youth in San Francisco. Scott gave into the business community and removed the bench, leaving many of us to return to neighborhoods that were unsafe for homeless youth and that exposed many to drugs, survival sex work, violence, and a harsh reminder that we are not welcome in our queer spaces.

Later as his Youth Commissioner, we organized the first District 8 youth town hall, and I was hopeful for change. The business community, young people, and public officials were in the same room and I was really encouraged by the resulting dialogue. It truly felt like those business leaders heard us and were empathetic to our concerns.

This town hall was near the end of my tenure as a Youth Commissioner, and I was hopeful Scott would continue to build on what we had accomplished. Instead, all records of that meeting disappeared into Scott’s office. All that work came to a grinding halt due to a lack of action on Scott’s part.

Now, I look at his rhetoric on homelessness, on encampments, on sit/lie laws and criminalizing homelessness and my heart is broken. I simply cannot support a person who endangers homeless folks with empty promises of “homes not tents” to gain a vote or two. I understand that Scott Wiener has aspirations, but when the leading organizations on homelessness make it clear that people die or are kept homeless as a result of your legislation, you need to listen.

Scott, if you’re reading this, I ask you to please change your stances that at this moment are anti-LGBTQ youth and anti-human rights. I ask you to please realize that this isn’t just about votes, this is about people’s lives. If you’re truly concerned about people’s health, fight for funding for portable restrooms in these spaces and fight for trained outreach health professionals that can address those concerns. If you’re concerned about these people being housed, don’t prevent people from obtaining housing by forcing a police record on them. And if you’re unconvinced with the legitimacy of my asks, go talk to the homeless people you plan on displacing. But do not continue forward with this dangerous legislative initiative. I ask you as a former colleague, but more importantly, I ask you as a friend that cannot stand by as their friend puts people in danger.

Jane Kim leading San Francisco Forward

To be clear, my endorsement of Jane isn’t a result of my disappointment with Scott. On the contrary, she has a stellar record in her own right. She is one of the only elected leaders I’ve ever heard of who voluntarily spent a night in a shelter. She wanted to experience what we experienced to better understand the issue and to inform policy changes that she fought for that not only alleviated homelessness but saved lives and tax dollars.

And she has been a tireless advocate for homeless youth, closely examining the complex problems and working for more thoughtful solutions. People really don’t understand how big of an issue this is in California. 28% of homeless youth in the entire country live in this state. We have one of the largest economies in the world — yet tens of thousands of our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters live on the street. It’s just not right.

I’m supporting Jane Kim, because she gets it. She listens but she doesn’t stop there — she also acts to address this grave crisis with a true understanding of the issue from many different angles. If you want to solve homelessness, you will elect the candidate in the race with solutions that are morally sound, fiscally viable, and grounded in reality.

I hope you will support Jane Kim with me.