Interview

Sunnyside Resident Veronika Fimbres Vying to be First African American Transgender California Governor

Veronika Fimbres served on the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Commission. She was the body’s first transgender officer. EMMA CHIANG/INGLESIDE-EXCELSIOR LIGHT

Veronika Fimbres, the first transgender public servant in San Francisco, is gathering signatures to become the Green Party’s candidate for governor of California in the Nov. 6 election. Fimbres, who works as a nurse, has lived in the Sunnyside since 2009. Her platform for the state includes ending the use of private prisons, banning fracking, supporting diversity in private companies and making the state more environmentally sustainable.

Q. Where were you born and what did you do before moving to San Francisco?

A. I was born in Michigan as the oldest of four kids. I went to school there in Detroit and had rough teenage years. I had a rough childhood. I was always different. So I went through the bullying and all of that stuff. My mother and I weren’t getting along and I’d had enough. So I moved in with my grandmother in Indiana. When I was doing an errand for my aunt, there was a [Navy] recruitment officer there. I had no idea what to do with my life and they showed me some films and they gave me a rate.

At the time, 1972, I was 22 and they were trying to get more blacks in the service. They called my mom and they guaranteed me my rate. Mom said, “Yes, take it. Please.” So I joined.

In the Navy they put me in charge of seven other people and gave me the orders, so I felt important. I’ve been in leadership positions ever since then.

Q. When did you get into politics?

A. When I was in Indiana, my youngest brother had AIDS and my mother had been getting information from [San Francisco-based] Project Inform because the people in Indiana didn’t know anything about the disease. Because of that, I was interested in the resources they had to offer.

I was diagnosed with AIDS in New York in 1987, but they never actually gave me the results — they just told me that “You’re going to die soon” and sent me home in an ambulance. They never did tell me that I had AIDS. It was in the 1980s and they weren’t sure what it was called either. I was actually diagnosed in 1989 when I got really sick while living with my parents in Marion, Illinois. They diagnosed me with Hepatitis A and when they were working up my blood work they found out that I had HIV.

Q. When did you move to San Francisco?

A. I was thinking of moving here to save my life, essentially, because San Francisco had the number one hospital for HIV and AIDS care, San Francisco General. I wanted to get the best care possible to save my life.

In 1997, I applied for a position on the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Commission. I was turned down but I was encouraged by [then-supervisor] Tom Ammiano to come back. The next time a position was open, I got it. I became the first transgender officer in the history of San Francisco as a Commissioner of Veterans Affairs. I served for 14 years and 8 months.

Q. What were some of the issues that you worked on at the Veterans Affairs Commission?

A. Veterans didn’t know how to get to the VA Hospital so we had the head of Muni change the marquee to say. “38 San Francisco Veterans’ Hospital” so that veterans could find their way to the hospital. I also presented to the commission about hospice services to help veterans get care.

The City of San Francisco was presenting information about trans people, but they were throwing it into the mix with men. They were throwing male to female transgenders in with the men [in their reports]. They presented to us twice and I was outraged. “You can’t lump us with men, don’t be ridiculous.” So I got them to change the policy. That’s the reason you see “male to female” and all that. I broke the binary rule.

Q. What were some of the main issues when you ran for supervisor in 2004?

A. At that time, there were always the same city issues: rent, this and that. But I didn’t really get off the ground. People said they were going to support me and they didn’t. I had some support but I had no financial support. A bar owner in the Castro donated a keg to me and I had my first fundraiser.

At my fundraiser, I was barbecuing the hot dogs and I had a jerry curl and my hair caught on fire like Michael Jackson. It was burning and I was trying to put it out. I ended up with a little third degree burns. One of the articles in the paper said something like, “I’m burning to be your supervisor.”

Q. Why did you decide to run for governor with the Green Party?

A. I was disenchanted with the Democratic Party and it seemed like the Green Party’s values were more progressive. They carried what I felt was my sentiments about the environment, the air, they’re just more compassionate and caring about everything. That would be me as a nurse and as a human being.

It costs $4,000 roughly to get your name on the ballot, and I’m raising money for that right now. There’s two other people running for the Green Party candidacy and I know both of them.

We’re not out to cut each other’s throat, draw blood or put anybody down. We’re there to lift each other up and whoever is the best candidate will carry the torch and hopefully be one of the top two to debate Gavin Newsom or Antonio Villaraigosa.

Those two front runners, they’ve got millions of dollars. In the middle of last year, Villaraigosa had over $20 million. I don’t have any. I have enough to keep my account open.

For more information, visit www.veronikafimbres.com.

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