The vice mayor is Black, Latina, and a lesbian -- and this California town is freaking out
Richmond, CA Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles [Facebook]

The vice mayor of Richmond, California has been the target of racially-charged and homophobic taunts from opponents who now accuse her of wanting to stifle their free speech rights, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.


According to the Chronicle, the vitrol directed at Jovanka Beckles, a lesbian who identifies as a Black Latina, has been a fixture at local city council meetings since her election four years ago. During a meeting last month, one member of the public, identified as Mark Wassberg, was seemingly bragging about the council allowing him the right to berate Beckles over her sexual orientation.

"I'm going to keep coming up here and tell you how gays have no morality," he was quoted as saying. "You're filth. You're dirt. Because I have the constitutional right to say it."

KTVU-TV also reported last month that critics have called for Beckles to resign after video came to light of her telling a local minister, Rev. Kenneth Davis, to "get out of [her] f*cking face," and calling other hecklers "bullies" and "women abusers."

However, fellow council member Tom Butt defended her conduct to the Chronicle, saying her anger was appropriate, given the nature of the language used against her.

"They never leave her alone," Butt said of the critics. "She puts up with a hell of a lot more than I would."

Beckles elaborated on the nature of the abuse in a column for the San Francisco Bay View, an African-American community-oriented newspaper, pointing out that Davis is running to replace her on the council.

"They are politically motivated and come from people who have made clear that there is no low they will not sink to in order to get their way," Beckles wrote on July 21. "This is evident in their attacks on me as a progressive, as an African American Latina, and as a queer identified woman."

Beckles also criticized fellow council member Corky Boozé, who the Chronicle said was part of the group of people who "attack her almost weekly" during the group's meetings. Boozé was the only council member to vote against a July 15 proposal, presented by Beckles, to ask city staffers to explore ways in which the group could handle disruptions from the floor. In her column, though, Beckles accused Boozé of opposing the council's progressive majority out of support for Chevron, which operates a refinery in Richmond.

For his part, Boozé accused Beckles -- who was born in Panama and graduated from Florida A&M University, a historically Black college -- of only calling herself Black to curry favor with the local African-American community during election season.

"She says she's a black Latina. Well, you're either African American or you're not," he told the Chronicle. "If she's really black, then why does she throw black people out of City Council chambers for speaking their mind?"

He also admitted to criticizing Beckles while denying it was because of her sexuality.

"Some people don't care for her lifestyle," he was quoted as saying. "I don't care for it myself, but she takes that in a homophobic way. I'm not homophobic -- my ex-wife is a lesbian."

Watch KTVU's report on the controversy surrounding the attacks against Beckles below.

[Image via Jovanka Beckles official website]