Forum incident prompts debate among some

Wade supporters say the “most important incident” left out of coverage

Courtesy photo Pictured from left to right are the participants in the District Three segment of the Oct. 19 Candidate Forum: candidate Fred Macksoud, moderator Kori DeLeon, candidate Lisa Landau, and candidate Stephanie Wade.

It appears school districts are not the only institutions grappling with the proper procedures to properly assimilate gender dynamics into long-held traditions, as the treatment of a transgender candidate in a Seal Beach Council race has generated outrage among her supporters here.

Following the coverage of the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce Forum two weeks ago, some supporters of Seal Beach candidate Stephanie Wade have suggested the Chamber failed to recognize an act of disrespect and that the Sun nevertheless should have reported the despicable act.

The Sun has heard from citizens who were upset the forum incident was not called out and suspect the incident is a symptom of a community that has yet to come to terms with gender issues in the modern age.

The concern centered around the insistence of a local man who identified himself only as “Doug,” who repeatedly and intentionally called Miss Wade by her “dead” name Christopher, rather than her taken name Stephanie.

According to the Associated Press Stylebook, a “dead name” is the name given up by a transgender person.

Wade supporters say they had no issue, per se, with “Doug’s” question regarding the Naval Weapons Station, just his uncivil demeanor, and they credit Wade’s professionalism in defusing the situation.

However, the fact that the behavior was not called out and the questioner was not ejected could be evidence that tolerance and civility in Seal Beach are still a work in progress.

“Right then, at that moment, I didn’t even know what a ‘dead name’ was,” said Kori DeLeon, the Chamber Forum’s moderator who is skilled in public affairs. Quickly, however, DeLeon said she figured out the situation and acknowledged the moment was a low point in the evening.

A video of the incident indicates DeLeon, at first, suggested “Doug” was confused and was referring to Christopher running in the first district race.

“I thought the voter was confused,” said DeLeon.

“I will tell you, at that moment, it was a very uncomfortable situation,” said DeLeon. “We [Chamber] bent over backward to make sure that we were as fair and as nonpartisan as we could be.”

DeLeon said she never expected a citizen to act in such a manner.

“I tried to divert it. You know, I tried to explain that the only Christopher that we had running was in district one without knowing that there was a dead name and without knowing anything like that,” DeLeon said.

“I quickly got the idea where he [Doug] was going with it,” she acknowledged, saying that after the shock wore off, she knew it was an inappropriate situation and did the best she could to get the forum back on track.

“I did feel like that man [Doug] was specifically being inappropriate. I just don’t know about filtering that stuff,” she added.

The questioner, named Doug, that was seen in the video of the proceedings has potentially been identified as a Seal Beach resident who lives in Old Towne, although calls to the man identified in the video by the Sun have not yet been returned.

DeLeon said that although the Chamber planned ground rules for content fairness, no one expected this. She said the incident points to a lack of acceptance, or tolerance, by some city residents.

That’s exactly the point, claim two Wade supporters who spoke to the Sun about the incident.

Amanda Bernadino, who also attended the forum, said she saw the man identified as Doug acting very strange. “He [Doug] was suddenly pointing his finger at Stephanie and deadnaming her.”

“I felt like he was unstable and threatening,” she said, “and they just let him continue to talk,” she complained.  Further, Bernadino said, “it was disgraceful. It should have been stopped immediately and he should have been escorted out.”

Also, Bernadino said she later watched “Doug” pace back and forth in the back of the room, again believing him to be unstable.

“I wish we could get along in town and not feel threatened when we walk down the street, have a Pride flag, attend a march, or just sit on the grass to protest,” she said.

Bernadino cited past incidents in the city, also noting the city’s continued insistence on not flying the Pride flag and the time when she says some in the city severely criticized Seal Beach Police for escorting a Pride parade.

“We would like to feel like we’re not going to be spit on by people or attacked in Seal Beach,” she said.

More to the point, Bernadino said not calling out the man’s intentional negative treatment of Wade during the forum potentially gives license to others who want to take similar actions.

Another Wade supporter had similar thoughts.

“I’ve lived here for 20 years, and my family is five generations deep in Orange County,” said resident Rick Foster.

“I wasn’t shocked by what I witnessed in the debate,” said Foster, “but it was probably the most newsworthy part of the entire debate, yet there was no mention of it [in news coverage],” he said.

“I am not a trans,” he said, but “I have a few trans friends … I can’t fully put myself in a trans person’s shoes to fully understand.”

Nevertheless, it seemed to Foster that the “Doug” stunt was “orchestrated,” by either another candidate or a faction in town wanting to send a message.

“I’m not shocked, but it made things awkward,” he said. “This is just typical,” he said, citing many similar incidents in which members of the Pride community have been disrespected, generally with impunity.

“I want Seal Beach to get on the right side of history,” said Foster. “They’re living in a black-and-white TV world of Mayberry, R.F.D.,” he said. “I live in a world with a color TV,” he said.

DeLeon said in the interview that the incident has provided her with a broader understanding, suggesting the Chamber examine civility policies for future forums. More important and evident, however, is the need for a wider conversation in town regarding the issue.

“I’m perfectly willing to host a conversation,” said DeLeon, acknowledging the uncertainty involved. “I don’t know where that’s going to lead, but I’m willing to participate.”

DeLeon is a local business executive who began her career as a legislative aide and recently was given an award for her work in public affairs. DeLeon suggested she understands the gravity of the situation.

“I would personally welcome those kinds of conversations about how we create safe spaces in town,” said DeLeon.  DeLeon suggested more members of the Pride community join the Chamber and engage with local businesses to foster greater understanding.

“We want people to come to Seal Beach and we want people to feel safe,” she said.

“If I’m listening with an open heart, you have this ability to change my mind or make me see things in a different light. The only time that happens authentically is through communication,” she said. “Other than that, we’re just, we’ll just keep watching these things happen.”

Wade’s transgender candidacy, especially considering the incident, has shoved an issue to the forefront that perhaps, until now, has been more conveniently avoided. Whatever the outcome of the election, DeLeon suggested Wade has become central to the issue.

Wade also complained to the Sun about leaving the “Doug incident” out of its forum coverage. Win or lose this election, she said, Wade said she is willing to engage with the community over this issue.

“I’m not planning to leave,” said Wade, a Seal Beach resident. “I’m not going anywhere and I’ve been very clear about that,” she added.

Regarding “Doug,” the man who showed disrespect to her, Wade said, “I have no animus towards the guy and I’m perfectly willing to have a conversation.”

“I know that you don’t change somebody’s entire worldview with a conversation,” Wade acknowledged, “but I do know that when I speak to people that have very different views from mine, who perhaps never met somebody transgender before, I think I make a positive connection with them,” she said.

“I think always of myself, as maybe, you know, the next person they meet that’s transgender, like when some kid in their church comes out as gay or trans,” said Wade.

“They’re going to be nicer to that person,” she said.

“I’m not going to be talking about what people should think or shouldn’t think and, you know, people are surprised that I was very even-handed in the way I responded,” said Wade.

“In the best-case scenario, changing people’s minds is hard. But if you’re confrontational, if you’re telling people how they’re wrong, then they’re not going to move at all. They’re just going to dig in,” said Wade.

“My objectives will be limited,” said Wade, “like ‘let’s just see if we can understand each other a little better and not hate one another.’”