Q & A : Outgoing Gentry Reflects on Accomplishments, Future
Robert F. Gentry has served on the Laguna Beach City Council since 1982. In 1983, he announced that he is gay. Gentry, 55, has been a strong advocate of environmental protection, neighborhood preservation and gay rights. He led the city’s effort to pass a domestic partnership ordinance granting gay and lesbian couples some of the same rights enjoyed by husbands and wives and a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. He is associate dean of students at UC Irvine.
Question: What has it meant to you to be the first openly gay elected official in Orange County?
Answer: I am extremely proud that a very diverse community elected me into the role of the first openly gay elected person in Orange County. It has given me a great deal of confidence and respect for my constituents and a great deal of hope about the future of gay and lesbian rights in Orange County and the nation.
Q. What impact do you think your high-profile position has had on gays and lesbians countywide?
A. I would only hope that there may have been at least one person who did not feel alone, isolated, devalued because of my profile. If that has been accomplished, I am successful.
Q. What have you achieved by being open about your sexual orientation?
A. I hope I have shown that the myths about gays and lesbians are just that, myths. That gay and lesbian people can be leaders, be competent, be family members, be religious, be professional and be a part of mankind in a way that everyone else is.
Q. How have people related differently to you since you came out publicly?
A. Most people have not related to me differently at all. The relationship differences developed when I became more of an advocate for change as opposed to just being out, and some people were skeptical of my advocacy and felt I was a single-agenda person and therefore were hesitant in supporting me. But no one responded differently to me just because of who I am.
Q. What have been the major changes in Orange County’s gay community since you took office?
A. There have been many changes, not because I took office but just because of the national and local movement. . . . It’s not about me, it’s about the movement. . . . There are currently about 35 gay and lesbian groups in the county. In the early ‘80s there may have been less than a dozen. Most candidates for political office have sought support from the gay and lesbian community. Issues of discrimination and bias are on the top of most people’s agendas. . . . We have a major gay pride organization with a very large annual event . . . and thousands of individual men and women in Orange County are feeling more comfortable about who they are today than they were 10 years ago because they have had the courage to come out and be themselves.
Q. With the county’s most vocal proponent of gay rights stepping down, how will that affect Laguna Beach and Orange County’s gay communities?
A. It won’t. The gay community in Orange County is vibrant and strong and articulate and there will be many others to follow me--in school boards, city councils, Board of Supervisors, state Assembly and the Senate--from the county of Orange.
Q. What have been your proudest accomplishments as a Laguna Beach city councilman?
A. My proudest accomplishment is being elected three times and being successful in developing policies that relate to the environment, human rights and the magnificent character of the city of Laguna Beach.
Q. What are the possibilities you may re-enter politics sometime in the future?
A. I have learned never to predict the future.
Q. How do you view the political changes now taking place in Laguna Beach?
A. Laguna Beach is a hotbed of political activity; it always has been. Every time there’s an election, there is a chance for political change. The electorate in Laguna Beach tends to understand the agendas of the rich out-of-town interests as opposed to the local candidates who want to preserve and protect the very special character of the city.
Q. What has caused the increasingly vocal call for a change in the city?
A. A very active and involved community and a local government that is not afraid to tackle very difficult questions and take a stand on very important issues.