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California

L.A. candidate criticized for teaching at a college that didn’t welcome gay students

Council candidates Loraine Lundquist and John Lee
Loraine Lundquist calls Councilman John Lee’s mailer “shockingly misleading.” Above, the candidates at a 2019 forum.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman John Lee is criticizing his campaign rival Loraine Lundquist for teaching at a college that did not welcome openly gay or lesbian students, arguing in a campaign mailer that “these values don’t belong on the City Council.”

“Lundquist made a conscious decision as an adult to teach at and cash a paycheck from a school with a discriminatory policy,” Lee campaign senior adviser Pat Dennis said in a statement, arguing that it raised “serious questions about her character and judgment.”

Lundquist says she openly opposed those policies as both a student and a professor and had co-founded a student group that challenged them. In a message to supporters this week, her campaign called the mailer “shockingly misleading.”

“I have always been someone who stands up for what I believe is right, even when it may be unpopular,” Lundquist said.

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Lundquist, an astrophysicist and Cal State Northridge educator, attended Principia College, a private college in Illinois that describes itself as a “Christian Science community of practice.” She returned to the school to teach physics in 2008 and 2009.

While she was a student and professor, Principia had “an unwritten agreement among admissions and the administration” against admitting or employing openly gay, lesbian or bisexual students, faculty and staff, according to an article in its college newspaper.

As a student, Lundquist was a member of the group Students Opposed to Bigotry and Discrimination, which called the policy into question and held a “historic meeting” with faculty about the issue, according to an article in her 1996 college yearbook.

“Loraine was very dedicated to the group,” said her former classmate Sarah Mathis. “It was very clear that this was something she thought was really important.”

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The Lee campaign criticized her decision to return to Principia as a professor. In a mailer, it quoted an article in which a former professor said that gay students there had been told “they needed to be healed, were asked to leave, or had to live in secrecy.”

The policy was not altered until 2014 — five years after Lundquist left as a professor — when the board of trustees directed the college administration to establish consistent rules for students, faculty and staff “regardless of sexual orientation.” Before that happened, two music teachers had stepped down in reaction to the policy, according to the article in the Principia Pilot.

Lee declined to answer questions about the mailer Wednesday at City Hall, referring questions back to his campaign representative Dennis, who had declined to make the councilman available for an interview.

In a statement, Dennis said that “Lundquist has made a deliberate effort to hide her association with Principia — leaving it off her biography and campaign materials — because she knows it’s wrong and shameful,” adding that “starting a campus club doesn’t absolve her.”

Lundquist said she hadn’t mentioned her years at Principia at candidate forums, where she routinely mentions her doctorate at UC Berkeley, because she was focusing on the most impressive parts of her resume. She said that when she was hired at Principia, she spoke openly about opposing the policy during her job interview and had aspired to change the college from within.

“I also knew there would be students there that needed allies and support,” Lundquist said, mentioning that LGBT students had long attended Principia despite the policy, including her own college roommate.

A Principia College spokeswoman said that the agreement signed by its faculty “has never mentioned a policy regarding the acceptance or hiring of LGBT students and staff.”

Lee is facing off with Lundquist for the second time in less than a year, after defeating her in a special election last August to represent a council district that includes the San Fernando Valley neighborhoods of Northridge, Porter Ranch and Chatsworth.

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This is not the first time that Lundquist has faced questions about her time at the Illinois school. When she sought the endorsement of the Stonewall Democratic Club last year, the LGBT political group was forwarded information about Principia and its policies by political consultant Myung-Soo Seok, who was working for a painters and floor layers union that has endorsed Lee.

Seok urged the group to ask why she had chosen to teach at Principia. The Stonewall Democratic Club ultimately endorsed Lundquist after determining that she had been an advocate for LGBT rights there, its media relations director Alex Mohajer said.

LGBT issues have not been a major focus of the campaign, which has instead revolved around municipal issues such as homelessness and L.A.'s version of the Green New Deal.


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