38-year-old Irvine native, president of California Stonewall Democrats, announces bid for state Senate
The 38-year-old president of the Stonewall Democratic club of Lost Angeles has announced he’s running to represent Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Irvine, portions of Huntington Beach and six other Orange County communities as potentially the only Iranian American in the state Senate.
Alex Mohajer grew up in Irvine, where he attended public schools and community college. He continued his education at UC Berkley, then came back to Orange County and earned a graduate degree from Chapman University’s Dave E. Fowler School of Law. He has spent the past 10 years investigating allegations of discrimination or sexual harassment for Los Angeles County and currently resides in his hometown.
“I have a platform that’s about fighting for working class families, small business owners and public school education, because I’m the son of Iranian immigrants, which really informs my world view,” Mohajer said during an interview Wednesday. “My mom came here and struggled and sacrificed a great deal so that we could have access to a good public school education and have opportunities she didn’t have.”
He also hopes to improve Californians’ access to healthcare and “take bold climate change action.” He has pledged not to accept money from donors tied to the fossil fuel industry or those potentially detrimental to the affordability of medical treatment.
He’s campaigning to replace Dave Min, the senator currently representing California’s 37th senate district who has announced his bid for a seat in the U.S. Congress. If elected in 2024, Mohajer would become the only Iranian American in the legislative body.
“The entire Iranian community is very activated with what’s going on with the ongoing women-led protests in Iran,” he said. “And I think, right now, the movement for the liberation for oppressed people is very intersectional with a lot of the issues we face here at home.”
Mohajer said in a campaign news release that if his bid is successful he will be “one of the first openly gay Iranians elected anywhere in the world.” A longtime advocate for women’s and LGBTQ rights, Mohajer in 2021 was voted to become the president of the Stonewall Democrats in Los Angeles, a major chapter of one of the oldest political groups supporting gay and lesbian people in the U.S.
Over time, some in the LGBTQ community came to view the group as focused on the interests of gay men in positions of privilege, the California wing’s political vice president, Renay Rodriguez, said. But she was inspired to seek leadership in the organization after Mohajer told her he hoped to expand diversity at Stonewall.
“Before Alex Mohajer ran for president, he happened to be hanging out at the Dyke March in WeHo [West Hollywood], and he came up to me and he said, ‘Hey are you a member of Stonewall?’” Rodriguez said. “And I said ‘Hell no! Why would I want to be a part of that club? It’s a bunch of old gay men.’ And he says, ‘Well, then you may be interested in the fact that I’m running for president, and I want to change that.’”
Mohajer narrowly won an election to become the organization’s president and sought to enact his vision of a more open club. Since then, the group has grown its membership and has become a more authentic representation of the LGBTQ community, according to Rodriguez. But she said that put him at odds with members of the group’s leadership.
Former members of the Stonewall Democrats accused Mohajer of repeatedly sidestepping established club bylaws and undermining other elected leaders of the group. In August, seven members of the organization’s political team penned a laundry list of alleged abuses in a letter announcing their resignation.
They claimed Mohajer stripped the group’s political team of many of its responsibilities. They said he placed himself and others on committees to review candidates seeking endorsement from the Stonewall Democrats despite what former members viewed as potential conflicts of interest.
“It was a really painful experience because I spent years trying to build the program at the club into something that we could be proud of,” former Stonewall Democrats political vice president Jane Wishon said. “Candidates knew they would get a fair hearing, that they would be judged or evaluated on their merits and policies rather than insider trading.”
Those who resigned alleged Mohajer “encouraged an open season on attacking [former political] Vice President Jane Wishon and members of the political team,” in their letter. They said he repeatedly bashed her in meetings and email exchanges and had once called together other members of the group’s leadership to talk about her behind her back.
Former members of the group who spoke to the Daily Pilot on the condition of anonymity suspect Wishon was, at least in part, singled out because she is a woman and in a heterosexual relationship. She identifies as gender fluid.
Stonewall’s community vice president, Nico Brancolini, said he believes Wishon resigned to avoid being disciplined. He had filed a grievance claiming she had used an anti-gay slur during a telephone conversation with him. He said she responded by airing out what had been a private complaint in emails, and a formal meeting had to be held on the matter.
Rodriguez, Wishon’s successor as Stonewall’s political vice president, said change was needed at the organization. She accused those who quit of prioritizing their positions over the club’s growth.
Rodriguez said she had clashed with Wishon over the planning of a meeting between Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna and gay men caught up in undercover vice stings run by law enforcement in Long Beach, where Luna had previously served as police chief. She said her predecessor insisted on moderating the exchange, but Rodriguez and others felt it was critical that a gay man lead a discussion about the harassment of gay people.
“They really weren’t understanding where their privilege blindness was and they weren’t understanding what representation means in the community,” Rodriguez said.
She said Mohajer has acted within his authority as the club’s president thus far and noted that he helped bring her and other women into Stonewall’s leadership. Rodriguez described friction with the former political team as the result of personal differences and dismissed any allegations of misogyny by Mohajer.
The organization has grown its membership by 30% and its budget by 80% since Mohajer was elected, he said. They have endorsed 124 candidates and initiatives with an 84% success rate. As many as 37 of those candidates identify as members of the LGBTQ community.
“Listen, democracy is messy, and change can be, sometimes ... difficult,” Mohajer said. “I’ve been an advocate for change and even challenged powerful people within my own party. I’m ultimately proud of the work we’ve done at Stonewall. I think if you come to Stonewall today you’d see it’s a very unified place. We’ve accomplished a lot together.”
All the latest on Orange County from Orange County.
Get our free TimesOC newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Daily Pilot.