Motivated to run for city council due to her dissatisfaction with the 2016 election, Denise Davis, the Director of UCR’s Women’s Resource Center, was sworn in on Dec. 18 as the city of Redlands’ first openly LGBT council member as well as the mayor pro tem for a two-year term.

Her discouragement with the 2016 presidential election and the call for more women to step up and run for office motivated Davis to run for city council. Davis stated, “Redlands is a city that I have lived in for the majority of my adult life, and it’s one I deeply care about. It’s an amazing community, and I feel that my unique vantage point as a young, civically-engaged woman will add a valuable perspective to the council as we envision the future of the city.”

Davis claimed that she owes much of her success to an incredible team of friends and volunteers that stepped up and were with her throughout the campaign, doing everything from hosting fundraisers and meet and greets, to knocking on over 4,000 doors with her as she canvassed the neighborhoods for months. She also was grateful to participate in a five month training program called Emerge California which trains women to run for office and  provide the tools, insight and support network necessary to be effective. Davis stated that there were six members on the ballot from the 2018 Emerge Southern California Cohort and all six won their races this year.

Despite her success in her campaign, Davis stated that she faced many challenges that she believes many women and LGBTQ people face when they run for office such as sexism and homophobia. Davis stated that these challenges, “manifested largely in negative online comments on Facebook, but also at times, there were personal attacks in public meetings, or encounters around town.”

Davis’ best advice for women and LGBTQ people running for office would be to develop a support system before they run and keep building on that as the campaign progresses. Davis stated, “For me, having supportive people around to text or call in stressful moments, or bounce ideas off of was essential to staying grounded and focused in this campaign.” Also, reaching out to larger organizations for support is a great strategy, according to Davis.

Davis campaigned around smart growth and development — being mindful about the way that Redlands continues to grow. Davis claimed to have many opportunities for creative innovation when it comes to economic development and placemaking — that is, making Redlands a place that’s appealing, accessible and welcoming for all generations. She is interested in seeing more public art, claiming that it is a proven benefit to the local arts economy, increases tourism and reduces crime.

“We’ve seen this already with the implementation of the Orange Street Alley in Redlands. It’s a wonderful addition to the city,” stated Davis. She is also hoping to partner closely with the Human Relations Commission, as she feels Redlands can continue to work on overcoming stereotypes and building bridges. Davis was involved in the Redlands Common Ground Conversation Series project, which brought together progressives and conservatives to have difficult conversations and find points of connection. Davis hopes to continue amplifying this work as much as she can.

As the first openly LGBT member of Redlands’ city council, Davis feels a sense of pride. She stated, “It’s quite likely that I’m not the first LGBTQ person on the council, but the fact that I can be open about who I am gives me hope that others will be inspired to do the same. Representation is very important to me. If you don’t see someone who has similar life experiences to you in positions of leadership or power, it’s hard to imagine yourself there.” She emphasized her belief that especially for women, the LGBTQ community, people of color and other minority groups, it is critical that we recognize the imbalance of power that’s existed for the nation’s history, and work towards breaking barriers and creating opportunities for equity.