Steve Brown has repeatedly insisted that businesses should have the right to refuse service to people suspected of being gay. The San Jose City Council candidate indicated as much in a campaign questionnaire, public statements, one-on-one conversations and a recent endorsement interview with San Jose Inside.
Friday morning, the District 2 contender doubled down on that view while crashing a press conference convened to denounce his remarks. Outside the Billy DeFrank LGBT Center, where lawmakers and gay rights advocates were about to address his questionable convictions, he walked right up to the podium and began shouting at TV reporters about being misquoted and misunderstood.
He also tried to change the subject by alluding to a time in 2012 when he apprehended a pair of suspected bank robbers. “The San Jose Police Department actually gave me the highest commendation that a citizen could receive in San Jose,” he bellowed as people booed and told him to host his own event if he had something to say. “The highest commendation,” he continued over the din, “and I appreciate your support.”
After being walked off the podium, Brown continued ranting from the sidelines.
“Look, I’ve never discriminated and I don’t support discrimination,” he said. “If someone sits there and lies, and tells lies and grandstands, it’s wrong.”
Gabrielle Antolovich, president of the Billy DeFrank Center, tried to calm him down so the press conference could continue as planned. But Brown kept talking over her.
“There was no phone call from your organization asking me my stance or my opinion,” he told her, calling the event a ploy to prop up his opponent, Sergio Jimenez. “This is a very clear-cut, politicized position to try to bolster a candidate that has no bearing running for office, a candidate that doesn’t have the support of the community. This is a last-ditch effort to try to elect a candidate from special interests.”
Assemblyman Evan Low (D-San Jose), who is openly gay, waited at the lectern for Brown to quiet down so he could start his presentation. Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager—also an out-and-proud gay man—stood beside him.
“How could you be tolerant with intolerance?” Brown asked, while a District 2 resident held a rainbow flag in front of his face. “Is this tolerance? Is this a belief system of tolerance that supports the views of San Jose? We need to be a tolerant society. We need to be an accepting society for everyone’s views, for everyone’s point of views and their stances. And we cannot discriminate against people’s views, whether they are sexual discrimination, whether it’s views upon religion, race, creed.”
ABC7 reporter Chris Nguyen posted a video of the exchange.
— Chris Nguyen ABC7 (@ChrisNguyenTV) September 9, 2016
Brown’s belief that the rights of business owners trump those of queer people is well established. He indicated as much in a voter guide before the June primary. Here’s the link. In it, he agreed with the following statement: “I support legislation that would prohibit discrimination against individuals, organizations and small businesses because of their belief that marriage is only a union of one man and one woman.”
Such laws have been blocked from taking effect in other states because of court rulings that they violate both the Establishment and Equal Protection clause in the Constitution.
But the issue with Brown’s views on the matter came to a head this week, once San Jose Inside published its take on the candidate based on a mid-August endorsement interview. “Brown seems uncomfortably sure of his positions, including the stance that business owners should have the right to refuse service to customers they suspect are LGBTQ,” the editorial read.
The article prompted this morning’s presser and drew condemnation from a host of local leaders, including San Jose Councilman Ash Kalra, whose seat Brown is vying to fill, as well as Rainbow Chamber of Commerce President Roark Clayton and Wiggsy Sivertsen, cofounder of pro-LGBT Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee (BAYMEC).
“Steve, stop being a bully,” Kalra pleaded at one point in what CBS Channel 5 reporter Kiet Do aptly called “the most awkward press conference in recent memory.” “OK?” Kalra continued. “This is not your press conference. Learn how to be an adult.”
Gay rights advocates called on people and organizations that backed Brown to reconsider their endorsements. Supporters listed on his campaign website include San Jose Councilman Johnny Khamis, former Mayor Chuck Reed, former Councilman Forrest Williams and East Side Union High School District trustee Van Le. At least two groups so far have distanced themselves from the candidate’s comments.
The Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, which endorsed him earlier this year, noted that discrimination is expressly prohibited in its code of ethics.
“[We do] not support any law, rule or regulation that legalizes discrimination against any community, including our LGBTQ members, clients and friends,” chapter president Trisha Motter wrote in an email. “As an association of over 6,000 members, we are proud to represent a diverse community of business people and entrepreneurs who abide by a rigid code of professional ethics.”
The San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, echoed that sentiment. “The [chamber] believes emphatically that businesses do not possess the right to refuse service to customers based upon their sexual orientation, and any suggestion to the contrary is false,” chamber CEO Matthew Mahood said.
BAYMEC President James Gonzales told San Jose Inside that Brown had every chance to recant his statement, but refused.
“We’ve given him plenty of opportunities,” he said. “Instead he crashed the press conference and he went bananas.”
This article has been updated.