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social sciences

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Kuehl, Sheila James (b. 1941)  
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Kuehl made her first run for political office in 1994. With her successful campaign for a seat in the California Assembly, she became the first openly gay person in the state's legislature.

Kuehl was an eloquent voice for glbtq rights, as well as for other concerns, including family leave, child support, the protection of victims of family violence, the quality of health care, and the environment.

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George magazine named her one of the "twenty most fascinating women in politics" in 1996. The same year she was chosen to speak at the Democratic National Convention on the topic of domestic violence.

Kuehl acknowledged in a 1997 interview that "it was very, very hard to be the only gay person" in the Assembly. She said that the election of Carole Migden, an openly lesbian former San Francisco city supervisor, was a welcome development, but noted that they were still "just two people out of eighty."

They became two powerful people, however; Kuehl was elected the Speaker pro Tempore, and Migden was named the chair of the appropriations committee.

Migden expressed optimism over the roles that they had earned, saying, "It can't help but forecast success when one lesbian oversees every spending bill and the other presides normally over the house."

One of Kuehl's deep concerns was the safety of glbtq youth in schools. Early on in her legislative career, she introduced a bill to make schools responsible for protecting students from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. After four years of efforts, she nearly achieved victory in 1999 with her Assembly Bill 222, only to see the legislation defeated by one vote. Undeterred, she inserted the language into Assembly Bill 537, rallied fellow Democrats, and finally succeeded in passing the measure into law in the waning hours of the Assembly's annual session. Kuehl called it the piece of legislation of which she was proudest.

Because of term limits in California, Kuehl was unable to seek reelection to the Assembly in 2000. After addressing the Democratic National Convention on the subject of diversity, she went on the campaign trail and won a seat in the state Senate, where she continued to advocate for glbtq rights and other issues of importance.

In 2004 the Log Cabin Republicans fielded a gay man, Leonard Lanzi--a former executive director of the Boy Scouts in Santa Barbara, who had been forced to leave the organization because of its discriminatory policies--to run against Kuehl. She handily won her second Senate term, the last allowable under the California term-limits law.

In the Senate Kuehl chaired the Natural Resources and Water Committee, the Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Water, and Energy, the Select Committee on School Safety, and the Select Committee on the Health Insurance Crisis in California, and sits on several others. During her distinguished career she wrote over 130 bills that were passed and signed into law. She also worked to support bills to legalize gay marriage, which passed, but were vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Kuehl has also been a strong supporter of National Coming Out Day, a project designed to help glbtq people stand up and express their identity with pride. She was at the side of her friend and Broadside co-star Dick Sargent when he came out at a 1991 event. In 2003, as part of the celebration of National Coming Out Week, Kuehl had the honor of cutting the lavender ribbon at the grand opening of the LGBT Resource Center at her alma mater, UCLA.

Since leaving the Senate, Kuehl has served as a member of the California Integrated Waste Management Board and, through her consulting firm, is currently engaged in consultation with college districts, cities and counties on a variety of public policy issues.

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