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SFMTA Transportation Director Jeffrey Tumlin feels responsibility to LGBTQ community

SF Transportation Director feels responsibility to LGBTQ community
SFMTA Transportation Director feels responsibility to LGBTQ community 03:47

San Francisco isn't shy about celebrating Pride, but when they were looking for a new transit director, they wanted someone who could usher in an entirely new transportation culture for the City. But the man they chose also broke barriers in the social culture, as well.

It may be a sign of how far we've come that when Mayor London Breed introduced Jeffrey Tumlin as San Francisco's new Transportation Director, the fact that he is gay was almost an afterthought...

"...He will be joining the City as a long-time resident of Noe Valley," said Mayor Breed at the news conference, "and will also be the first LGBT Director in SFMTA's history."

That was it. No big deal. Tumlin was being hired not because he was gay, but because he was a rising star in the movement toward public transit and away from private automobiles. But being gay has shaped HIS decisions...from a young his 20's when he moved to San Francisco in 1991.

"San Francisco, from the very beginning, was the only place I've ever felt at home, even as a 12-year-old," said Tumlin. "And I didn't quite know why then, but it became clearer later."

Now, Tumlin is high profile, advocating for transportation issues, while navigating the minefield of San Francisco politics.

"There was even a brief period where I realized I was the highest-ranking transport bureaucrat in the country until--damn him!--Pete Buttigieg was made Secretary of Transportation and outranked me," said Tumlin with a laugh.

But along with his position, Tumlin feels a huge responsibility to the gay community.

"You know, it's funny. I've never been as aggressively "out" as a gay man than I've been in this job," he said. "Yeah, I think I did that out of a sense of obligation."

He is distressed at the way Trans people are still being treated and displays an early picture of himself in a dress as a way to offer his support. His husband and long-time partner Huib Petersen said he admires that commitment.

"I think that is one of the things that I so like about him, the way he feels an enormous feeling of responsibility," said Petersen.

Despite all the support, Tumlin admitted his intense drive to succeed probably stems from childhood feelings of shame.

"As a way to compensate for being 'unloveable,' I made myself really, really good at school," he said. "I mean, I'm still not quite recovered from that. There is still a part of me that is still an overachiever."

Tumlin said he is concerned about current threats to gay rights in the legal system. But he says he's confident that the younger generation, who have grown up in an era of LGBT acceptance, will bring permanent change to society. For him, it's been a journey of discovery and, though it's not in his nature to relax, Tumlin seems happy with the man that 12-year-old kid grew up to be.

"So, for me, the word 'Pride' is very much about not only being proud of who we are, but also proud of what we've accomplished in our work--becoming fully, you know, fully engaged selves." he said.

Which calls to mind Tumlin's first news conference. It may be a good thing that his LGBT status was barely mentioned. The real sign of progress is when selecting a leader who is gay doesn't seem like news at all.   

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