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    Courage, for a Change, from California’s First ‘First Partner’

    By Andrea Shorter–

    It’s the middle of January 2019, and we just celebrated the birthday and civil rights movement legacy of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with marches, speeches, panel discussions, freedom train rides and various national day of service projects. We also recently took to the streets by the millions through hundreds of city thoroughfares around the world at the third annual Women’s March.

    These actions took place within the context of a new era marked by the last midterm elections of record numbers of women, people of color, LGBT, persons with disabilities, immigrants and veterans to local, state and congressional seats of power rising up to redefine the realities of changing American social, cultural and political currents. This collective revolutionary act is poised to seriously challenge the predominantly straight white male majority status quo.

    Meanwhile, there is one significant act of 2019 that has received some media fanfare, but without the celebration and recognition of the historical import it truly deserves: Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s declaration as California’s “First Partner,” not First Lady, to her spouse and newly inaugurated Governor Gavin Newsom. It is a revolutionary act that deserves a closer look and more celebration.

    First Partner Siebel Newsom might very well have started the new governor’s administration with this radical departure from an evidently obsolete political-historical-quasi-constitutional norm. “Courage, for a change,” one might say. OK, I couldn’t resist.

    The bold, radical assertion to redefine the role of the spouse to the Governor of the virtual nation-state of California might come about as little surprise to some, given that it occurs in the bluest of blue states, it is asserted by the spouse/partner of the man who courageously placed the fight for same sex civil marriage on the global stage, and that Siebel Newsom has long established her own personal agency challenging gender norms as a filmmaker and founder of The Representation Project.

    Siebel Newsom’s welcome departure from age old reference and deference to the governor’s spouse—expectedly a woman, and therefore, wife, in engrained gender specific terms—is a long overdue, yet timely, revolutionary act.

    Yes, we will one day soon elect a woman as governor of California (hint: not too soon to look out for newly elected first woman Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis for that next chapter of her-story). And, rather presumably, within the confines of heterosexual political power couple norms, there would be a First Husband to be. Already this all sounds so arcane.

    First Partner Siebel Newsom has broken the barrier to confining gender norm for not only the eventual first male spouse of a presumed female head of the Golden State, but also for the first female spouse or partner of the first lesbian or bisexual governor, the first male spouse or partner of the first openly gay male to serve as governor, and so on.

    Furthermore, First Partner denounces the idea that should the governor or POTUS have a significant other (Governor Jerry Brown 1.0 of the way back 1970s was our last single, unattached chief of state), that he, she or they must be a person brought to the Capitol by marriage. Partner might imply spouse, but it also signifies, well, that one’s significant other may or may not be brought along by marriage, same sex or otherwise.

    Perhaps by the time these historic elections to the governor’s seat occur, “First Partner” will not seem so radical. For the time being, the possibilities and implications of First Partner are quite exciting and liberating.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights and marriage equality. A Co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.