Today we’d like to introduce you to Sepi Shyne.
So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born in Iran and spent the first few years of my life in fear of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard watching our every move. Women’s rights were trampled on and we were not allowed to be in the streets with men or boys who were not our family. I cut my hair short and pretended to be a boy to play soccer with the neighborhood kids. I remember kicking the ball around under the hot Tehran sun just as vividly as I remember fleeing the country with my parents after the war, escaping to the United States for a better and safer life.
After I came out in high school during my junior year, I was bullied by other students and repeatedly called a dyke. The school counselor was no help and told me to go kiss a boy in the yard to prove them wrong. Instead, I chose to be more out and proud and came out to my family. It was hard for them at first, but with patience and my work of educating them, they grew to tolerate, then accept and now advocate for me. During my second year of college, I was sitting with my girlfriend at the time in a coffee shop that was known to be “gay friendly”. We were getting rude looks from the new manager as we held hands. The next thing I knew, a police officer and the manager were standing over us. We were shocked and frankly terrified when the police officer said, “The manager doesn’t want your kind in his establishment, you have to get up and leave” as he blew a kiss and winked at me.
We ran out in a hurry and drove around town in tears. We felt powerless. We decided at the moment that we would never be powerless again and both decided to go to law school to learn the law and stop this from happening to others. I have been an LGBTQ+ civil rights advocate ever since. Shortly after my graduation from Golden Gate University School of Law, I was elected to the board of Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, where I worked to mentor young LGBTQ+ law students and lawyers. I moved to Los Angeles in late 2006 and in 2007, was elected to the board of the LGBT Bar Association of Los Angeles, and then elected Co-president in 2008. This was a pivotal year for our community with the disastrous Prop 8 on the ballot. I was proud to help raise thousands of dollars to support the No On Prop 8 campaign.
Never once did I stop fighting and the passage of Prop 8 didn’t dissuade me from advocacy. In 2009, I joined the Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest LGBTQ+ rights organizations in the world. In various leadership roles at Human Rights Campaign, including a term on the Board of Governors, I helped train diverse leaders, developing the skills they need to advance our cause. I co-chaired the annual HRC Los Angeles Gala in 2012 and I’ve continued to serve with HRC for the better part of a decade to advance the rights, representation, and visibility of LGBTQ+ people in Los Angeles and helped get LGBTQ+ candidates and allies elected to public office.
In addition to my advocacy work with the Human Rights Campaign, I was appointed to the City of West Hollywood’s Lesbian & Gay Advisory Board in August of 2018. In December of 2018, I decided to run for West Hollywood City Council for the March 2019 election and came within 141 votes of flipping the current mayor’s seat. I currently serve as a Business License Commissioner for the City of West Hollywood and as a member of the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Advisory Council. I continue to advocate for the residents of West Hollywood and I am running again for West Hollywood City Council. The election is November 3, 2020.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The transformation from helping others get into office to running for office has been inspiring, challenging, sometimes frustrating but most of the time very rewarding. I have met extraordinary residents of West Hollywood and learned so much about our beautiful history and about the desires of a majority of residents. Running for office for the first time also taught me how flawed our system is with regard to the role money plays in politics and elections.I chose to take a few months off work to run for office. I had some money saved up for a vacation and my wife and I decided that running for office to help the residents of the city was more important than taking the time to travel. I took the time off because I knew I was a newcomer and had a lot to learn about running for office while all three incumbents had the experience of running prior campaigns. While most of my opponents, except for one incumbent, took in tons of developer money in donations as well as support in the form of independent expenditure committees from developers, I chose to not take any developer money. I was and still am running a campaign powered by people and prioritizing the voices and needs of West Hollywood residents.
Another challenge I experienced as well was the assumption on more than one occasion that because of my Iranian heritage that somehow I was not in support of the Jewish community. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I was raised to believe that not only are women equal to men in every respect but that every culture, religion and ethnicity is special and deserves respect.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
As a lesbian Iranian immigrant, I never thought I would run for office. I never thought that as a ten years resident of our beautiful West Hollywood, I would be running for City Council. But, I have watched our longtime beloved small businesses close one after another, rent and housing prices have become way too expensive for most residents and our homeless crisis keeps getting worse. I have the heart, experience and fresh energy that is needed to serve on City Council. As a business law attorney and small business owner, I know the importance of supporting our small businesses to build a thriving local economy with good, rent and mortgage-paying jobs and easily understand government codes and ordinances.
I’m running because the rent is too high, and we need to find creative ways of building more affordable housing while at the same time better protecting our renters. I’m running to deliver comprehensive solutions to our homeless crisis, by going right to the source: lack of enough affordable housing, lack of enough supportive services and lack of enough good, rent paying jobs right here in West Hollywood. I’m running to help preserve our LGBTQ history and keep our community members safe. I’m running because our residents need to age in place without the fear of not being supported or taken care of by the City we have lived in for decades.
I’m running because I believe in justice for all. Social justice, economic justice, and climate justice. Justice for our black and brown family, friends and neighbors. Justice for our transgender, non-binary and non-conforming family, who are disproportionately impacted by our lack of public health services and affordable housing. And justice for each and every resident, because we deserve to be safe in the city that we love. We deserve to live, work and age in place in the city we love. We deserve a better West Hollywood. What sets me apart from others is the experience I bring as a respected attorney, an LGBTQ+ civil rights advocate, and a resident who is here to prioritize resident’s needs not the developers. I am therefore running a completely people-powered campaign.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Being in joyful service to others, being a leader who creates positive change and inspires others to realize their power is success.
- Website: www.sepishyne.com
- Phone: 310-499-8944
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: sepishyne
- Facebook: Sepi Shyne for West Hollywood City Council
- Twitter: Sepishyne