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Ammiano and Leno Leading the Fight to Protect Gay Students from Bullying

Tom Ammiano
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Tom Ammiano
Once enemies, the lawmakers are now allies, and maybe even friends

In 2004, as Tom Ammiano ramped up his re-election campaign for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, his supporters urged him to write to a list of gay political groups and prominent individuals to seek their support. Ammiano approved nearly the whole list, but uttered a colorful curse at one name he refused to approach: Mark Leno, then an Assemblyman from San Francisco.

It seems like ages ago when Ammiano, who is now in the Assembly, and Leno, who is now a state Senator, battled in San Francisco. They were two of the city's most high-profile, openly gay politicians who clashed over issues like land use, but also competed on a personal level, observers suspected, to be the top dog representing the city's robust gay constituency.

This week, a pair of bills carried by Ammiano and Leno targeting bullying against gay students moved forward in the Legislature. Leno’s bill, which requires textbooks used in California to include positive mentions of figures and events in gay history, passed the Senate on Thursday. Ammiano’s bill, known as Seth’s Law, which would require schools to update their anti-discrimination and anti-bullying policies, passed the Assembly’s education committee on Wednesday.

The two lawmakers will sponsor the other’s legislation in their own chamber. Quintin Mecke, a spokesman for Ammiano, said in an e-mail that both bills are part of the Sacramento LGBT Caucus’ “coordinated legislative strategy for this session.”

The collaboration between the two men is a welcome sight for San Francisco's gay and lesbian political circles, which for decades have been as famously fractured, as they have been active.

In some ways, gay activists say, Leno and Ammiano have joined forces to pick up the mantle left by Sheila Kuehl, the state’s first openly gay Senator who was termed out in 2008, and Carol Migden, Leno’s predecessor.

“They have their own interests and their political take on everything, but I’m grateful to now have Senator Leno and Assemblyman Ammiano as our champions for student safety,” said Carolyn Laub, the executive director of the Gay Straight Alliance Network.

For years Ammiano, the loose-cannon with the gay activist's credibility, mistrusted Leno, the scrupulously polite small business owner with a gleaming set of teeth who Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr. appointed to the board in 1998.

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