Political Animals: Fasinating Docu about California’s First Lesbian State Politicians

Political Animals, Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Ware’s fascinating documentary, chronicles the long journey of California’s first four lesbian state politicians.

This winner of Los Angeles Film Fest’s jury and audience awards is now traveling the festival road in what’s gay ride week in many cities. I caught it at the Provincetown Film Fest, where it also won the Audience Award.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

Through personal interviews and archival footage, Political Animals succeeds on at least two levels, as an historical document of bold and daring lesbian politicians, and also as an inspirational feature about the former limits and now greater possibilities for women’s viable political career. The docu is especially significant now, an Election Year in which the presumptive Democratic Presidential candidate is Hillary Clinton.

It comes as no surprise that all four heroic women—and they are heroines—came of age in the politically charged decade of the 1960s. Rather shrewdly, and making the docu more relatable, the filmmakers have chosen to tell the separate stories of the quartet members via individual segments.

Over the next four decades, we observe how they have moved through the shifting times and their social issues, from activism in the civil rights and women’s movements to Gay Liberation, and from lesbian separatism in the 1970s to the AIDS era of the 1980s and beyond.

Sheila Kuehl, the first to reach the California Assembly, was a civil rights attorney and law professor. But prior to that, she played the tomboy teen Zelda Gilroy on the sitcom “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.”

Two years later, Kuehl was joined by San Francisco’s Carole Migden, whose femininity—wearing pink suits—confused some male colleagues who thought Kuehl’s butchy look represented lesbians more accurately. In 2000, Jackie Goldberg and Christine Kehoe were also elected.

The docu observes in detail the fight for anti-discrimination bills meant to protect students from bullying on the basis of sexual orientation. It took four assembly votes over several years before the bills passed, during which time homosexuals were compared to pedophiles and even necrophiliacs. Ignorance—or lack of informed opinions and tastes–is one of the docu’s more relevant issues, as it still prevails, even among educated professionals, including politicians.

As many gay and lesbian professionals have witnessed, the quartet of women were subjected to offensive and sexist comments, often from their own fellow lawmakers with whom they had professional interactions.

Other laws, introducing and expanding the equal rights of same-sex domestic partners and their families followed, culminating in the success of the bigger, more controversial issue, gay marriage.

As expected, all four subjects are rational in their arguments and articulate in their views, but they are also ultra-modest in reassessing their achievements—which are incredible-perceiving themselves less as leaders or political animals than “tools of the movement.”


Running time: 86 Minutes