On November 4th, my wife and West Hollywood Commissioner Sepi Shyne officially declared victory in her race for City Council and became the first out LGBTQ+ Iranian-American elected anywhere in the world. Locally, Councilwoman-Elect Shyne’s success is again history-making on several fronts, including being the first woman of color ever elected to the City Council and cementing the first female majority in West Hollywood history.
Congratulations Sepi! How do you feel?
I am incredibly proud of the success of our people-powered campaign. We laid out a broad and progressive vision that protects renters, rejects special interests, and reimagines how we invest in our quality of life in West Hollywood. I am grateful to everyone who placed their trust in me, and I look forward to earning the trust of those who didn’t vote for me. Together, we will move our city forward and ensure that West Hollywood remains the gem it has always been.
What is your role on West Hollywood City Council?
After I get sworn in on December 7th, I will be a council woman for the city of West Hollywood, and my role is to help run the business of the city. As an elected council woman my colleagues and I are responsible for appointing people to commissions & boards, voting on items before the city at the council meetings, attending city events and most importantly carrying on the will of the residents of West Hollywood.
Did you always know you wanted to run for office?
I never thought I would ever run for local office. I was an undocumented immigrant until I was 16 and growing up, I felt like I was living in multiple worlds even after getting my green card. My Iranian world at home, the American world outside of my home, and my LGBTQ+ world. After graduating from law school, I became a citizen. Voting has been the greatest privilege. I didn’t know I was going to run until I decided to run in 2018 in order to help my community and after being inspired by the November 2018 blue wave, women’s wave and rainbow wave and for the first time I saw other middle eastern women getting into office so I thought maybe it is possible for me. Long before wanting to run for office in order to be of service, I fought for our LGBTQ rights for more than 20 years. What started my advocacy was the discrimination I experienced. In my second year of college, my ex-girlfriend and I were sitting at our favorite coffee shop chatting about our college classes and holding hands. The next thing I knew, a police officer and the new manager were standing over us. The officer looked down at us and said, “the manager doesn’t want your kind in his establishment. You need to get up and leave,” and then the cop blew a kiss and winked at me. My ex and I felt scared and powerless. We ran out of the coffee shop in tears. Later that day, I told her, “I am tired of feeling powerless, we need to go to law school, learn the law and stop this from happening to others!” From then on I have been fighting to protect my communities. And now, I will be bringing my advocacy to City Hall.
Can you explain the importance of having a Queer Women of Color in local office?
As a woman, a woman of color, a queer woman, a feminist, an Iranian-American and an immigrant that use to be undocumented, I bring a perspective that relates to so many members of our community whose voices haven’t been heard. I am able to view things with multiply different lenses and because of that, the future of our city will be able to reflect, not just the majority, but all members whose voices are just as important.
It’s no secret that women running for office are faced with multiple obstacles. Could you share your experience?
There was a lot of misogyny during my race. This was my second run for office and I almost flipped the former mayors’ seat during my first run. This time around I was a front runner challenger and I was told by multiple people to drop out of the race and instead support a cis white male candidate who had never run for office and give him a chance because it was just wasn’t my time and that somehow I was not as qualified. I defied that notion! On the local level, the endorsements given to the male candidates so easily vs. female candidates who are made to jump thru hoops was very telling. Too often women of color are told it’s just not our time, but the truth is… it’s always our time!
As a lawyer who has years of advocacy fighting for the LGBTQ+ community, and a former city commissioner why was your qualification in question vs. your male counterparts with less experience?
History has shown us that women & women of color have had to work ten times harder even if they are more educated and qualified than their male counterparts. I was going up against a very strong boys club, and luckily we shattered that! We have the first-ever female majority on West Hollywood City Council, and I was able to achieve this without any endorsements from the female nor male incumbents that serve on council.
What are your visions for West Hollywood?
We need to bring back our community feel and take the time to get to know our neighbors. West Hollywood needs to create more affordable housing for all so that our beloved community members aren’t forced to leave due to economic displacement. During my time in office, I would like to pass stronger protections to protect our renters, so that they’re not in fear of eviction while living in their own home. I want the BIPOC & LGBTQ+ communities to feel safe and have a voice, and we can do that by creating a social justice task force and appointing more BIPOC & LGBTQ+ onto commissions and boards. We also need more gender equity on our commissions and need to limit developer contributions to candidates for office.
What plan do you have to rebuild our community during COVID-19?
Economic recovery in West Hollywood as well as small business support. My biggest concern and priority is that we continue to keep the community safe and housed during the pandemic. That all community members have the proper resources to continue being housed, and our economy is revived as well. I have an extensive small business support plan as well as wanting us to diversify our revenue stream.
What advice would you give Queer Womxn running for office?
Follow your dreams and don’t let anyone stop you. I’ve achieved a lot of firsts, but I just opened up the pathway with strength and determination. You all have the capacity and the ability to make your dreams come true and run for and get elected into office. I encourage all of you to do so! Please reach out to me. I’m always here and willing to be a mentor for anyone of you who want to get into politics because that’s where our power lies.
Just for fun. What advice would you have given Bette Porter who ran to become mayor of Los Angeles?
(Lol) She should have gone harder after her competitor. It is possible to fight hard like I did but still have integrity.