Rather than take steps to remove a controversial commissioner from the San Diego County Human Relations Commission, some county supervisors are instead recommending that the commission handle the issue itself.
County Supervisor Joel Anderson said Friday he would not remove Commissioner Dennis Hodges, who recently expressed derogatory views about the LGBTQ community and transgender people.
And last week, San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher and Vice Chairman Nora Vargas sent a letter to board chairwoman Ellen Nash recommending the county’s human relations commission of Leon L. Williams of San Diego to instead create a code of conduct for the commission. and state the consequences of any violation.
“This will allow your body to hold members accountable for actions detrimental to the overall mission,” the letter read. “We ask that you work with your colleagues and potentially outside experts to develop such a code, including how violations will be enforced.”
The supervisors’ letter to Nash came in response to various demands from LGBTQ supporters, including some commissioners, that county supervisors intercede in the dispute and remove Hodges from the human relations commission.
The Human Relations Commission “was created to promote positive human relations, respect and integrity for every individual, regardless of gender, religion, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or gender. citizenship status,” according to Fletcher and Vargas’ letter. “It exists to be the forum that brings together diverse viewpoints around some of the most important issues facing us.”
However, he is struggling to maintain his mission after a dispute began in November, when Hodges, pastor of the nondenominational Yeshua Ha Mashiach Church in Lemon Grove, abstained from voting with other commissioners for endorse a letter condemning transphobia and recommitting to work to end discrimination against transgender people.
Asked about his abstention, Hodges made controversial remarks about transgender and LGBTQ people, including that “transgender…is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Dozens of LGBTQ supporters and some of his fellow commissioners have since sent letters to the oversight board calling for his removal. Hodges said he had the right to remain on the board while maintaining his religious beliefs.
Nash sent a letter to Anderson, who nominated Hodges to the commission, asking him to remove Hodges, but Nash says Anderson never responded.
When asked by the San Diego Union-Tribune on Friday, Anderson said he would not seek Hodges’ removal.
He wrote in an email: “The mission of HRC is to promote positive human relationships, respect and integrity – in fewer words, to promote tolerance. I believe this commission was designed to show us how to be tolerant of others. This situation is a golden opportunity to lead by example by respectfully engaging with those who share different points of view. I believe in the mission of the commission and am optimistic that the commissioners will meet the needs of all San Diegan residents, including the more than 100 community leaders who have signed a letter asking for tolerance to be shown.
In their letter, Fletcher and Vargas said they shared the commission’s concerns about recent events that have led some members “to not feel safe or included in this important work” and “believe that hate speech and degrading and derogatory opinions have no place in the mission or work of HRC, nor does it have a place in our county.
Fletcher said in an interview that he thought Hodges’ comments were “outrageous and an insult to the spirit and mission of the Human Relations Committee”, and that if he had appointed Hodges he would be replaced.
Aeiramique Glass Blake, the government’s community relations consultant, said she was acting as a spokesperson for Hodges.
She said she was working with Hodges and other faith leaders and they were planning a forum later this month called “A Courageous Conversation.” It will involve LGBTQ advocates, faith leaders and others for a discussion of issues and conflicts between faith and LGBTQ communities, she said.
“When this conflict arose, Pastor Hodges and other faith leaders reached out to me for a proactive and restorative approach to addressing the damage caused by actions and words,” Glass Blake said.
“I often say that conflict, when nurtured well, produces growth,” she added. “We can no longer perpetuate a culture that pushes people away. We need to attract people and have the long-awaited conversations from a place of intentionality, seeking understanding and, above all, love.
Fletcher and Vargas said they recommend the human relations commission amend its own bylaws to include a code of ethics and address its issues, so the commission can remain independent of the oversight board. Fletcher added that the commission should be able to remove its own members.
Nash said the commission had already established a subcommittee to update its bylaws prior to this incident. It met weekly to update language around attendance, nominations, appointments, as well as adding a code of conduct and removal process, she said.
Its meetings as well as the monthly meetings of the commission are public. The subcommittee plans to present amended draft rules of procedure to the commission at its next meeting on March 22, she said.
The completed Code of Conduct and additional amendments to the Articles of Association will be submitted to the Supervisory Board for review. Fletcher and Vargas said they hoped the commission could complete it within 90 days.
The commission will also hold community forums on how to handle issues such as this, Nash said.
“Again, this is a bigger issue: how do we promote positive human relationships? We need to exemplify this work and create safe spaces so people are not hurt or traumatized,” Nash added.