California capital’s first openly gay city council member?

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By Malissa Rogers

There has never been an openly gay city council member in the history of Sacramento, California. Steve Hansen wants to be the first.

“It was never a choice to run as an openly gay candidate. I’ve been out for a long time,” Hansen said. “When we try to hide who we are, it hurts more than it helps and if our leaders lie, that’s a pretty bad message.”

Hansen, a senior regional manager at  California-based biotechnology company Genentech, is a down-to-earth, humble, 32-year-old, who believes helping others is his responsibility in life and prides himself in being a huge supporter of local artists. He has resided in Sacramento since 2002 and currently lives in the Alkali Flat neighborhood in Sacramento with his dog Oreo.

Earlier this year in June, Hansen earned 28.59 percent of the votes from District 4, which covers Sacramento’s Land Park, midtown, and downtown. This secured his name on the ballot, next to Joe Yee who received 27.53 percent of votes; both candidates are looking to replace Councilman Rob Fong, during the upcoming election in November. 

District 4 is a crucial area because it includes the conservative Land Park and the more progressive areas of downtown and midtown, which is centered around the business and arts district of Sacramento.   

“I think it’s hard to encapsulate all of the emotions that I feel, but I know deep inside I feel good about doing this,” Hansen said. “I want to make the city look good and show what we’re made of.”

The decision to run for city council had to be made by Hansen and ultimately he concluded that it would be the best way to give back to his Sacramento constituents and be an active leader in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. 

“I had to look inside and ask ‘is this right for me? Should I make a difference?’ I decided I should,” Hansen said. “We have never had a gay city council person. I want to show that we are strong, thoughtful and we are hard working. I think that will do a lot for the LGBT community as well as for the rest of the community.” 

Hansen’s political platform includes stimulating the declining economy in Sacramento by providing more affordable housing for residents, increasing public transportation and lessening the amount of homeless LGBT youth within the city. His main goal in Sacramento is to “attract and retain good jobs to grow the economy” and raise city revenue in return.

Hansen described his childhood as “difficult” and said he believes that helping his community provided a way for him to assist other LGBT youth who may be having difficulties of their own. 

“There (are) kids out there that think they can’t be who they want to be, but California is such a good place to be what you want to be; no matter your race, gender or sexual orientation,” Hansen said.

Hansen attended high school and joined the Army National Guard in Minnesota, where he’s originally from. When he graduated from high school, a congressman nominated him to the U.S. Military Academy, West Point. However, Hansen decided to move to Spokane, Wash., where he attended Gonzaga University and participated in the ROTC program. Hansen received his bachelor’s degree in international relations and later attended the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law.

Between the years of 2004 and 2006 Hansen worked as the legislative director for Equality California, where he helped pass Assembly Bill 849 (formerly AB 19) through the legislature in 2005. The bill upheld religious freedom and ensured equal protection under the law by allowing same-sex couples to marry. However, Gov. Schwarzenegger later vetoed the bill and in 2008 voters approved a ban on gay marriage in California.

Earlier this year when the 9th District Court of Appeals declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional, Hansen described his emotion as “happiness.” 

“I have worked on the marriage bills for so long,” Hansen said. “We were one step forward, but there’s still a lot to do. We are only half way there.”

After Hansen helped the LGBT community throughout California, he decided to become involved in Sacramento politics and served as a member of the Sacramento Redistricting Citizens Advisory Committee, which helped bring the central city of Sacramento (midtown, downtown and Land Park) into one district.

When Hansen decided to run for city council in District 4 in Sacramento, the Stonewall Democrats, a gay rights advocacy group in the greater Sacramento area, endorsed Hansen as their candidate. He is also a member of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s Campaign Board, which works to increase the diversity of elected officials in California’s government.

“It’s kind of a shock that we’re in the 21st century and there are no LGBT elected officials in Sacramento,” said Neil Pople, the communications chair for the Stonewall Democrats, according to the Sacramento Bee. “We have a lot of good allies, but it comes to a point in the movement when you need your own voice.”

Hansen is the former vice chair for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, a private, non-profit organization that focuses on improving areas throughout downtown Sacramento. An advocate for neighborhood interests, Hansen worked to obtain funding for the community and helped create the Downtown Sacramento Foundation, which works to expand and improve the social, cultural and public well-being while working to reduce homelessness in Sacramento’s central city. 

For Hansen, he sees his work in the community and his job as something that goes hand-in-hand, but believes being an openly gay man is only part of why he should be elected.

“When people say ‘You’re only a gay candidate,’ I feel that’s such a bad statement. When we put someone in a little box like that, that’s really harmful,” Hansen said. “I’ve always seen myself as a problem solver and I know I can make a big difference. I want to show that I am grateful for the opportunity.”

Hansen’s view on the current battle that the Obama administration is facing, with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), is hope. He envisions a future where people are not judged by their sexual orientation or gender within California or anywhere in the U.S. and firmly believes that it is not a question of if it will be repealed, but when it will be repealed, which he is certain will be very soon.

Hansen did see a portion of his dream come true when President Obama and Congress repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” in September 2011.

“It always hung over me. Can I be myself and support my country? I was extremely proud of the president and how he worked this issue in Congress,” Hansen said. “It reaffirmed that we can fix things and not just the easy things, but we can fix the hard things.”

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