Politics

Social Justice Drives Sepi Shyne

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An iconic West Hollywood activist, Ivy Bottini, made a sad observation about the city, just before her move to Florida last month: “There’s no place for middle-class people anymore.”

The lack of affordable housing, rent control, and meaningful diversity across all gender identities, sexual orientations and ethnic backgrounds are realities that Sepi Shyne finds disturbing in the city she’s called home for more than a decade, and that’s the catalyst behind her decision to run for the West Hollywood City Council.

As a child, Sepi cut her hair and pretended to be a boy to play soccer with the neighborhood kids in Iran, even though girls weren’t allowed in the streets with males who were not family members. She spent her early years in fear of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard that watched her family’s every move.

Her family eventually fled Iran, and now, as a lesbian attorney married to an African American (actress-writer Ashlei Shyne), Sepi believes diversity is a core value that the City of West Hollywood should represent.

Over lunch at Akuma Ramen & Sushi Bar, Sepi talked about coming out her junior year of high school and getting bullied by other students, who repeatedly called her “dyke.”

“The school counselor suggested that I kiss a boy in the yard to prove them wrong,” she said. Instead, she chose to be more visible, and came out to her family. With time and patience there was acceptance, and now, her family advocates for her and supports her candidacy for the West Hollywood City Council.

Her activism began in college, after a homophobic experience left her feeling “powerless to protect ourselves and the people we loved.”

While holding hands with her then-girlfriend, a policeman approached and said, “The manager doesn’t want your kind in his establishment, you have to get up and leave” as he blew a kiss and winked.

“We ran out in a hurry and drove around town in tears,” she recalls. But rather than allowing the experience to defeat them, “We both decided to go to law school to stop similar incidents from happening to others.”

After graduation, Sepi was elected to the board of Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, where she worked to mentor and educate young LGBTQ+ law students and lawyers.

She moved to Los Angeles in late in 2007, and was elected to the LA board of the LGBT Bar Association, and then co-president in 2008. That was the year that Proposition 8, allowing discrimination of LGBT people, was on the ballot. She helped to raise thousands of dollars to support the “NO on Prop-8” campaign.

In 2009, she joined the Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest LGBTQ+ rights organizations in the world. In various leadership roles at HRC, including a term on the Board of Governors, she helped train and educate new and diverse leaders, developing the skills they need to advance the cause. She co-chaired the annual HRC Los Angeles Gala in 2012 and continued to serve for the better part of a decade to advance the rights, representation, and visibility of LGBTQ+ people in Los Angeles and helped get LGBTQ+ candidates and allies elected to public office.

In addition to her advocacy work with HRC, Sepi was appointed to the City of West Hollywood’s Lesbian & Gay Advisory Board. As a member of the board, she helped to organize the world’s first city-sponsored Bisexual Pride event.

As a lesbian, Iranian immigrant and woman of color, she didn’t plan to run for office, but changed her mind: “Some of the most basic rights of the LGBTQ community are under attack,” she said. “Right-wing legislators are chipping away at the foundation of our democracy.

“Rents are too high, we need to have more protections for renters against unjust rent hikes and predatory evictions,” she added. “I will deliver comprehensive solutions to the homeless crisis, by going right to the source: lack of affordable housing and good mortgage and rent-paying jobs in West Hollywood.

“I want the City of West Hollywood to be a model for the future, leading the way with green energy and green jobs while reducing traffic by taking cars off the road and adding mass transit opportunities.”

Immigration is, of course, also an important issue to her: “Our immigrant friends and neighbors deserve the same shot at the American Dream, whether they be Russian, Iranian, South American, or from anywhere else.”

“I believe in justice for all–social justice, economic justice, and climate justice, justice for our black and brown families, friends and neighbors, justice for our transgender, non-binary and non-conforming family, who are disproportionately impacted by the lack of public health services and affordable housing.”

I once heard Marianne Williamson say that women have a 50-50 chance of being elected, but the challenge is to get more women to run for office. Hopefully one of the extraordinary women such as Marianne Williamson, Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren will break the ultimate glass ceiling in 2020. But for now, we can start locally, encourage the overdue change that is sweeping the political establishment.

It is hard to believe that the City of West Hollywood has only had one lesbian council member in nearly 35 years. If elected on March 5, Sepi Shyne will be the second lesbian and first woman of color in the metropolitan that is WeHo.

She is running a people-powered campaign, reportedly without accepting a single penny from big developers, she said.

“I’m proud to have the support of many leaders and organizations, including the Stonewall Democratic Club, West Hollywood legend Ivy Bottini, Planning Commissioner John Erickson, Women’s Advisory Board Members Carla Romo and Jenner Deal, Transgender Advisory Board Chair Alexis Sanchez, and Lesbian & Gay Advisory Board Co-chairs Lauren D. Costine, Jason Frazier and Congresswoman Katie Hill, Co-Chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus.”

The City of West Hollywood Election takes place on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

Writer Vic Gerami is a regular contributor to Goweho.com.

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