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Good evening and welcome to tonight's meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California. I'm Steven Seewer and I chair the LGBT Member Forum of the Commonwealth Club and I'll be your moderator for tonight's program. This evening, the Commonwealth Club of California is honored and delighted to present Theresa Sparks. Theresa has a profound history of activism and service to the City of San Francisco. She is President of the San Francisco Police Commission and President and CEO of Good Vibrations. Theresa is a member of the Emeritus Board of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and the member of the board of directors of the Horizons Foundation. Theresa served in the United States Navy and is a Vietnam-era veteran. Theresa Sparks also happens to be a trans-gender woman. Theresa was born male in Kansas City, Kansas where she grew up. She attended Kansas State University and studied chemical engineering. She married her first wife in 1971 and together they had three children. After nine years of marriage and Theresa's growing recognition of her gender identity, she separated from her wife and they eventually divorced. Theresa underwent intense therapy and even submitted to electric shock treatment to try to suppress her femininity. Ultimately, Theresa decided to embrace her gender identity. By 1997, Theresa was ready to live full time as a woman and moved to San Francisco. However, even in San Francisco, perhaps the most transgender friendly city in the world, Theresa faced challenges as transgender woman. Despite a long and distinguished career in waste management as a man, she struggled to find a job in San Francisco as a woman. She applied for more than 100 jobs. Theresa eventually found work as a cab driver, a bank teller, and a census taker to narrowly avoid becoming homeless. Theresa has been politically active in San Francisco from the time she arrived. In 1999, working with other transgender activist, Theresa formed the Transgender Political Caucus and campaigned to elect supervisors who would fight for transgender rights. Theresa became chair of the transgender activist group TG Rage and in 1999 organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance to memorialize those who lost their lives to transgender violence. In San Francisco, the day of remembrance is held at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro District, in fact just last week. And since 1991, it has grown into an annual event honored around the world each November. In 2000, Theresa's activism prompted then Supervisor Mark Leno to create the Transgender Civil Rights Task Force of which Theresa became a charter member. A year later, Theresa and Leno helped to establish broader medical benefits from municipal employees diagnosed with gender dysphoria. The new law was the only governmental policy of its kind in the nation and provided medical coverage for hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery. In 2001, Mayor Willie Brown appointed Theresa to chair the LGBT Advisory Committee of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, making her the Commission's first-ever transgender appointee. In 2003, Theresa Sparks became the first transgender woman ever named Woman of the Year by the California State Assembly. Assemblyman Mark Leno, Theresa's friend and a fellow transgender right activist said he selected Theresa for the award to honor her advocacy on behalf of the LGBT committee but also to humanize the transgender civil rights bill he introduced earlier that year. Assembly bill 196 made it illegal to discriminate an employment or housing decisions on the basis of transgender status or gender stereotype. Impressed with Theresa's public service, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors appointed Theresa to the San Francisco Police Commission and she was sworn in by Mayor Gavin Newsom in August of 2004 and on May 9th of this year, Theresa made history yet again when she was elected President of the San Francisco Police Commission by a single vote making her the first transgender person ever to be elected president of any San Francisco commission and the city's highest ranking transgender official. Theresa has been awarded the Human Rights Campaign's Equality Award and named one of the Top 100 LGBT leaders in the United States by Out Magazine. Please welcome Theresa Sparks. Thank you Steven. Wow! If you have any questions.[laughs] I- I really am honored to be here tonight to be at the Commonwealth Club and all the dignitaries and and significant people that have made presentations here. And when I talked to Steven and Julian the first time, they said I said you know, "Well, what do you want me to talk about?" And they said " Well you know, whatever you want." And about that same time, I was there were a lot of things going on in my life. There was a I've been appointed recently the President of the Police Commission or elected. Good Vibrations, the company I worked for was going through some financial issues and so there was a lot of press going on and so I would answer this press calls but I have to ask him what they were calling about because they were calling about the police or they calling about Good Vibrations or they calling about being trans person who work for Good Vibrations and worked with the police and so I thought you know what we could do here is kinda go through those three issues of my life. Kind of the transgender issue, my work with good vibrations and kind of who Good Vibrations are and also the police because there's a lot going on with the San Francisco Police Department right now and a lot of people have a lot of interest in public safety in San Francisco. I actually I've always recently anyway looked at my life kind of in two acts, kind of a before act and an after act and the defining moment obviously was when I transition from living my life as a male-bodied person to a female-bodied person. That happened in about in 2000 and so what I'll do is kinda of go through some of my life prior to that to give you some context and some background and then a little bit about my life after that which included Good Vibrations includes Good Vibrations and also my work with Human Rights Commission and also with the police department. I did grew up in Kansas City and you know when you're growing up transgender, you know people asked you when did you know that you're a transgender. It's kinda like people asked when did you know you're gay or when did you know you're a lesbian? It's kinda of an interesting question and thinking about it most of the time gay and lesbian people talked about knowing when they start start reaching puberty and start thinking about the opposite or the same sex and who they want to who they're attracted too. Transgender people always know. You know, people say "Did you know when you were sic or seven or eight?" and I think most transgender people actually always knew. There's never a time in my life I ever remembered not knowing that I was transgender. It just I didn't know what to call it and I didn't know how to define it. I didn't know what to do about it. But I've know about it essentially my entire life. I grew up in Kansas City and in the suburbs and kinda had leave it to beaver life and I was kinda of the beaver. [Laughs]. You know, I was kinda shape like the beaver and kinda acted like the beaver and had bucked teeth like the beaver. And but it was a very sound midwestern upbringing. Uh midwestern ethics. You know, I'd work, you know in high school I worked in service station growing up. I I applied for West Point and was accepted and it was my first actually my first political lesson and that I was accepted for West Point and the month before I was to go I got a letter from the congressman saying that he decided he found a more qualified candidate who happened just happened to be his nephew. And so I was not accepted into West Point. At that time, I went to Kansas State University studied engineering. After a period of time, I decided that college was wasn't as interesting to me as going to the war in Vietnam so I ended up dropping out of school, joining the navy and going of too war. My war ended up being station in Hawaii at an intelligence center. So I spent a couple of three years in the service, came back and went back to school and again dropped out of school because one reason or another and the primary reason was I started doing independent research in in recycling and oil recycling and other type of recycling, culminating and I received two US patents of that in late '70s in the recycling industry and how to recycle used oil. Every time I I told ah I got married along the way and had three kids and every time I told my particularly my first wife when I told her that I had this trans issues I was thrown out immediately and asked to leave the house and I left the house and ultimately got divorced then lost everything and kinda started over and moved from Kansas city to California with I could carry in the back of my car. I gave up the house, I gave up whatever money we had et cetera et cetera because at that point when you like many gay people I think can relate, you had this feelings of guilt and shame and you feel like when when you when you identify this kind of thing to your spouse that they deserve to have everything. And so they end up having everything. And so I moved to California, tried to tried to get therapy as Steven mentioned. I even had electric shock therapy which really worked. Electric shock therapy reinforces guilt and that what it is designed to do. It's a version of therapy and it did, I felt way guiltier. I didn't do anything other than that, I just felt guiltier and so you know I continued to just live my life and most trans people I think before they finally embrace their identity want to live a normal life and so they do whatever is possible to live a normal life and that might be therapy, that might mean getting married, that might mean having kids, that might mean doing whatever to get to a point where you're living a normal life and what you don't realize at that point until you actually embrace your transgender identity is that is your normal life, being transgender. My business is my professional life I was very successful by all conventional standards. I own my own company when I was 27. I've been the CEO through my career of CEO about a number of multinational companies. I worked abroad Oslo, in Manila, London, and Hague. I traveled extensively in Europe, around the world. I was on the cover of a well-known monthly business magazine as an entrepreneur of the year. I met four US presidents, served on two white house committees, served on NAFTA committee and people assumed that my next job would be CEO of probably a fortune something company 100, 200, 500. I lived in area Rancho Santa Fe California and had stayed there you know three children. I had a private jet at my disposal whenever I wanted it. Many, many friends, powerful business associates and acquaintances, active in the community but I wasn't happy. It's a classic example of having everything the society suggested that you would want to be successful and it not being enough and now wondering what enough is. My blood pressure was 200/110 at that point and my doctor told me that either I had to do something or I would probably end up in wheelchair or worst. Then something happened that really change my life. I I received a huge sum of money and my my youngest kid graduated from high school. So all of a sudden, I was sitting there. I had lots of money. I had my company sold. I had no job. I had lots of money and I had no children at home. And I was left to to my own thoughts and that was a very dangerous thing because I could no longer hide behind 18 hours of works seven days a week, children, family, et cetera and all is left to my own devices and within a very short period of time, I kind of went into a huge anxiety and ultimately somewhat after somewhat into a nervous breakdown. At some point, you finally give up and you say look, this isn't gonna work and so you have to go the other direction and get started embracing your identity which I did. There's no question, absolutely the hardest thing that I've ever done in my life was telling my children that I was transsexual. Because you have to understand, I was kind of the alpha male you know like alpha business leader. I was alpha dad. I coach little league. I coach football. I drove fancy cars. I had Mercedes. I had workshops. I build a muscle car as a hobby. You know, I created myself into the antithesis of what I really knew myself to be which I think I typical of many transgender people. As you create a life and an image really the opposite of who you know yourself to be. I mean I I work I build recycling plants of refineries. You know, I I worked for wrecking companies, managed you know, refineries, drove 18-wheelers, served in the navy. I mean there was no macho job that I wasn't trying to do. And, you know, I was the last person in the world anybody thought that could be like this. And so when I identified myself to my family and friends, basically they all went the other direction. I lost all my family. Basically, my brother told me that he thought I would end up homeless and on drugs. I did end up homeless but not on drugs. That I'll never be able to get a job and that he on his own company said that he would never hire someone like me. My sister who was a a very religious set up an intervention for me which didn't worked. My other brother just stopped calling me. My two sons rejected me. They said that they need time to process information. My daughter fortunately, she was very supportive but kinda drifted in and out and all my business acquaintances disappeared. All my friends disappeared and actually until just a few months ago, the only person that I ever talked too or knew from my previous life was my daughter. I mean think about it. Every single person who was in my life prior to transition left my life and the only person the only link between my back my former life and current life was my daughter. You know, I started when I started transitioning you know expenses are high. Fortunately, I had some money, a lot of transgender people don't to pay for like eloctrolysis and pay for therapy and I was going to therapy three time a week and electrolysis twice a month or if not more. You know 200 hours of electrolysis, I mean it's it's a nightmare and it's also very expensive. And so once I ran out of money, I started selling possession. I sold I had an antique Mercedes I sold it. A Cardiem watch, I sold it, you know, golf clubs, whatever else I had every ounce of clothing I had coz' keep in mind when you're transgender in your transition, you have nothing. You have to start over even with the basic, you know, underwear, and every item of clothing has to be new. You start from scratch with everything so it's kind of expensive. I went to work. I couldn't find a job. I applied for over a hundred positions. I got a few interviews. Every time, I went in for an interview, they kinda look at me and smile and said, we don't think you're qualified or we think you're overqualified, you're underqualified, you are not qualified and eventually, I got a job driving a cab in San Francisco, that Desoto cab which quite honestly it turned out to be one of my favorite jobs in my life. Believe me, driving a cab from five in the afternoon 'till three in the morning in San Francisco is one of the most fascinating positions you can possibly have because there is nothing you don't see. You see everything in the world in San Francisco at that time. Unfortunately, I wasn't a very good cab driver. I really liked the job if somebody else will drive the car. I had you know, I had like four accidents in a year and they finally called me and said "You know, it has nothing to do with who you are or what you look like, you're just a bad cab driver. And so they fired me. After that, I didn't have a job and so I got evicted from my apartment ran into one of the angels in my life. Everybody has angels as we go through life and ran into one of them. A friend of mine who offered that I can stay with her and so I moved to Greenville for a few months and stayed with her, moved back here for a few months and stayed with another good friend of mine and basically couch surf for a period time until I can find work and I kept looking for work during all this period. I had I came in with some money through my family estate and I ended up in 2000 having going to Thailand and having surgery which is kind of interesting thing to do. You know, it's interesting when you to Thailand after after having surgery, you go down I thought it was kind of mystic going down and seeing some of Thai girls because the Katoey which are the Thai trans people are kinda famous worldwide because Thailand in many cases was seen as kinda of the sex capital and you go down talk to this girls and you couldn't really talk to them and so they would look at you they would kinda wonder where you were in your transition and the way they will explain is they go cut-cut and chop-chop and that was kinda of a question and so you'll always say yes or no, cut-cut and chop-chop and of course at that point it was yes for me and so I kinda see my life as I mentioned before a kinda before cut-cut, chop-chop and then after cut- cut chop-chop and that's kinda how how I've gone forward. I came back and got a job for Mark Leno working as a field coordinator in his campaign and met a lot of political friends now and actually kinda learn San Francisco politics from the inside from the trenches which is a very, very interesting place to be in San Francisco politics. This was in 2000 when it was kinda of the revolt against Willie Brown and nine of the eleven supervisors that went on the board as supervisors were progressives or defines as progressives only two that survived. The onslaught were Mark Leno and Gavin Newsom. The rest of Willie Brown's people were replaced by progressives and I was one of the people helping Mark. As Steven said, a lot happened at that point in time. We formed the transgender implementation task force. We lobbied with many, many people in San Francisco to get the health benefits which was kind of a shot heard around the world. It was I remember when they finally did vote in the chambers of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, it was unbelievable. There were probably fifty news media from around the country filming the thing and it was a very, very exciting time when that happened. I got involved with the human rights commission. Mark named me Woman of the Year which was a huge honor for me. I remember when I went to Sacramento to accept the honor, the way you get it is you you walk down with your sponsor, at that point Mark Leno, down to the center of the assembly to the speaker and then the speaker or the the Lieutenant Governor hands you your reward and as I walked down the aisle, I remember seeing all the republicans in the room turned their back on me as I came as I walk by him and it was kind of an interesting kind of my first experience with real, real big deal republicans in the state. So then we walked out and then Mark, knowing if you know Mark Leno, Mark then took it upon himself to introduce me to everyone of them personally which was kind of fun I have to say and so then we got more involved. We formed the Transgender Political Caucus with some of these elections and and just went forward with political agenda. About that time, after Mark's campaign and after all of this was going on, I finally was able to find a job. That was actually actually being a census taker which was a fun job, going door to door in the Richmond actually. And also I worked at the bank as a teller and I went kinda from a teller to bank I got a position at Good Vibrations as the effectively the CFO and I was like talking about Good Vibrations because the minutes I say the word Good Vibrations, I get smiles because everybody in San Francisco knows who they are and people for the most part love Good Vibrations. I have to say it saved my life. Good Vibrations saved my life. There is no question about it. It was they actually the company actually gave me an opportunity to be to use some of business skills. I work for a very nice woman who was very accomplished and I've been with good vibration essentially ever since. Good Vibration is really more than company now. It's really a concept. Good Vibration is a concept that say that sex shouldn't be something dirty. It's not something to hide but it's something to embrace and to talk about and Good Vibrations is all about non-judgmental sex and education about non-judgmental sex and it's really defined by its values and its values are fair and equal and treatment of employees and stuff. Diversity is a positive development rather than a negative education, non-judgmental and the empowerment of women and empowerment of different disenfranchised populations and communities. You know, Good Vibrations really defines the fundamental values of San Francisco and Good Vibrations really embodies San Francisco and that's kinda how I see the company. What happened to Good Vibrations when I first joined? It was a work around cooperative. We use to sing Kumbaya a lot and we would have actually a company- wide meetings with all employees twice a month which was a little pricey as far as the corporation goes but we would talk about classism, and racism, and talk about all kinds of social issues in those meetings and then argue about colors of offices and we argue about a lot of very fundamental things. The problem with that is the company was essentially built and design to educate the population on sexuality and so it sold products as a necessary evil to fund its education as opposed to actually generating profit for shareholders and that really doesn't last indefinitely. Ultimately, we ended up converting Good Vibrations from work around cooperative to a regular corporation, a California corporation because we were unable to get any loans or any cash flow financing or any equity investment because it was a cooperative and and so I was there as other people came to add more professional management to the organization and culminated in a couple of years ago and coming up with plans to expand the company nationwide through to various concepts. Unfortunately, about the same period time, our online sales dropped 50% which was 50% of our total sales and so we ended up having being in a very precarious position in cash flow and losing hundred of thousand of dollars every month which is hard to believe that somebody in the sex industry could loose money but we did. And so we went out and started looking for partners and ultimately found a buyer from Cleveland, Ohio and interestingly enough, it's a company like Good Vibrations. It's 50 years old. With Good Vibrations, this is our 30th year. The company that bought us was a company that was more the traditional male-focused adult store as opposed to us being more of a female-focused. We kid with them in saying that they have this they brag about having couples store where they have couples stores in the Midwest and the way I see them is the couple stores where man take their girlfriends or wives after they've been drinking all night on Saturday night before they go home as opposes to Good Vibration is a place where women take their girlfriends and other people on Saturday afternoon after they've had brunch. So it's a little different concept but so far so good. We'll see how it goes. They're very nice people. They have very similar values to Good Vibrations. My political life in San Francisco is kinda had it's up and down and truly the culmination of it has been to be involved in the police commission. In 2003, the city passed what was called Prop H. Prop H was design to to restructure the police commission and to raise expectations that the police commission would give through civilian oversight and transparency for the SFPD. And it reconstituted from five members to seven. Three of the members were appointed by the boards of supervisors and four by the Mayor. It gave a lot of independence because at that point in time, the mayor could replace people prior to Prop H. America replaces commissioners if he didn't agree with what they did. At this point under Prop H, it takes literally a majority vote of the board of supervisors for any commissioner to be replaced including the mayor. The mayor can even replace it's own commissioners. So we have a lot of independence and we try to work to try to realize the expectations of Prop H and the concepts of Prop H. And the concepts really were truly of transparency and true civilian oversight. The first couple of years, we struggled and we kinda work on it two or three years. We got some things accomplished. We passed for instance a new general order for firearm discharge review board which required to do a review of any firearm discharge in the city of SFPD officers and review it before they go back on the street. Early intervention system to identify officers who were in trouble or having issues with the use of force of other issues. So we did get some things accomplished but it seemed like we were still kind of proceeding along the same path as the former commission which was somewhat of a rubber stamp commission for the Mayor's policy. I objected to that some of that and had some words with the current with the president at that time who was one of my friends actually and I had ultimate respect for her but she and I just saw the purpose of the commission in different ways. I saw it as more of a advocacy group and representing the citizens of San Francisco where she saw more as as on extension of the Mayor's policies. In May of this year, we did have an election. I was voted President of the commission by one vote and the deciding vote was actually one of the Mayor's appointees. In my understanding is you can hear the Mayor all the way down the hall outside his office down the steps after we found out what had happened. He was not happy. It is the first time in 125 years, there was a non-mayoral appointee as President of the San Francisco Police Commission, and he ultimately, in his mind lost control of the commission. He really- well he probably did. And so what we've tried to do is reformat under this really revolutionary concept of true police accountability and true transparency and getting the citizens involve and brining things to a public hearing and getting input from the people of San Francisco as to how the police force should and is operated. There's still a lot of issues with the department. We've come up with some new concepts like again these things seemed to be kind of intuitive but crime reporting now we do crime reporting by neighborhood rather than by huge district. And so we have to identify the 86 neighborhoods and within very, very short period of time, you'll be able to know exactly which crime is going on in your individual neighborhood at all times which to me is kinda of a common sense approach but something that's never been done. We're dealing with issues of Jessica Law. Jessica's Law was passed last year by the state which required that a sex offender a registered sex offender could not live within 2000 feet of a school, a playground, a park, or places where children congregate which in San Francisco rules out everything except three small areas. One is by the Ball Park, one in Hunter's Point and one out by Ocean Beach. It makes it but to get around the law, registered sex offenders are now declaring themselves homeless so they don't have a home. You can imagine the problem that's causing because we have I think about 1300 sex offenders registered sex offenders in San Francisco. We're starting to deal with issues of technology in the department. Lori's Law, there's a lot discussion about Lori's Law which is mandatory treatment of mentally ill people and forcing them to go into treatment and get off the street. So there's a lot going on in the department and hopefully, over the next couple of years, we will be able to address some of the bigger issue. So just in summary, you know, on being transgender, you keep in mind that being transgender is unusual but it's not unnatural. It is something that occurs naturally in humanity, naturally in society, not only in the United States buy also around the world and it is really not something you discover at any point in time. You don't become transgender, you are transgender and you are from birth. As far as Good Vibrations, it is really the embodiment of the values of San Francisco. It really is truly what San Francisco is all about. As far as San Francisco politics, it is kinda of my advice is keep your eyes open and your head down because San Francisco politics is truly a blood sport and you can get the top of your head taken off if you are not careful and the San Francisco Police Department, it truly is the finest one of the finest police departments, if not the finest police department in the United States. It needs updating and there's a lot of studies going on right now to update it to bring it to the 21st century to increase community policing, whatever that is and we were fortunate to have one of the most caring, probably one of the most confident chiefs of police anywhere in the United States. She is a very intelligent and very compassionate person and I support Heather Fong wholeheartedly as does the San Francisco Police commission. We've made that position public several times particularly around the period of time in which our Mayor asked for everyone's resignation. So that's truly all I have. I'd be happy to answer any questions anyone might have.