COMMISSIONER PROFILE: MARQUITA THOMAS
Hi Marquita, and welcome to WEHOville. Thank you for your service to the community. Let’s start off with you. Where were you born and where did you grow up?
My father was an 82nd Airborne Army captain and I was born on Fort Bragg Army Base in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Both of my parents are originally from New York City so we moved back there for a very short while before moving to New Orleans, Louisiana where my little sister, Jamee, was born. When I was in third grade, we moved to Sumter, South Carolina. My last few years in South Carolina, I attended St. Jude Catholic school. After graduation, I left Sumter, SC to go to Occidental College, best known as one of Barack Obama’s alma maters. There, I studied public policy and theatre.
What brought you to West Hollywood?
My first few weeks at Occidental, a group of friends and I piled in a car to go to the now-closed Arena nightclub. Over the years, I often found myself in and around West Hollywood visiting friends, attending various street festivals and enjoying the West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval. After college, a friend of a friend was looking for a roommate. I moved in and West Hollywood has been my home ever since. Growing up, I moved every single year until high school but I have been in the same West Hollywood apartment for 26 years now. It seems like both a lifetime and the blink of an eye.
Tell me about your role on the Los Angeles LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce (LAGLCC).
I joined the LAGLCC in 2009 at the urgings of the late LGBTQ film producer J.D. Disalvatore whom I’d known for years. We met when she filmed my L.A.C.E. Award acceptance reel for the LGBT Center. I joined as a board member and served two terms as president before becoming the organization’s first full-time Executive Director in 2011. In my role, I am responsible for all fundraising, programming and legislative advocacy of the organization. A large part of our strategic plan is supplier diversity – diversifying supply chains to include LGBT diverse suppliers, otherwise known as LGBT Business Enterprises (LGBTBEs). In the past two years, the LAGLCC has been involved in the recognition of LGBTBEs in the City of Los Angeles’ diverse spend, the County’s new LGBTQQ Certification and deliberations on a spend goal for LGBTBEs with the public utilities. For companies that already have a supplier diversity program, we connect diverse suppliers to available opportunities which range from infrastructure and construction to professional services.
And if I recall you have served on the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, the Human Services Commission, and now the Planning Commission. Did I miss any? Is there an experience you would like to share?
I began my service to the City on the Lesbian Visibility Committee which was responsible for producing the City’s Dyke March. On that committee, I emcee’d the march for years and in 2005, I pitched a queer women’s music festival called Serafemme that was sponsored by the Committee and the City. That festival won a number of awards and made LGBTQ marketing history as it was the first LGBTQ ad run in AMC theatres. Later I joined and co-chaired LGAB. After LGAB, I was appointed at-large to Human Services and now I serve as a West Hollywood Planning Commissioner.
Now you are on the Planning Commission as the first African American female. You have broken a glass ceiling in West Hollywood. Do you feel that West Hollywood is an equal opportunity city?
I do not believe the City documents demographic information on advisory boards or commissions so I can’t say if I’m the first Black female, the first Black person, the first person of color or none of the above. What I bring to the Commission is a variety of perspectives. As a chamber leader, I look at how projects will impact surrounding businesses and voice when decisions by the Commission could hinder proposed or neighboring businesses. As a long-time renter, I ask questions about how practical a project is for diverse communities – those aging in place, families, people with pets, pedestrians, the disabled, etc. I also champion for affordable housing units, ensure that construction projects do not infringe on the quality of life of residents, question the impact of the project on traffic, and whether the project is in line with the City’s future transit, safety and climate action plans.
You were a candidate in the 2019 election for West Hollywood City Council. Do you feel that planning commissioners should take be allowed to take donations from developers and city contractors?
I was a candidate in 2019 in the election when Councilmembers Lauren Meister, Lindsey Horvath and John D’Amico last ran.
I think every stakeholder in the City should be able to support a candidate they feel shares their values and has a plan for the future of the City. I do not think that the rules for Planning Commissioners should be any different than they are for anyone else, including City Councilmembers.
Are you considering another run for City Council in 2022 or beyond?
I will be running for West Hollywood City Council in 2022. I am very proud to have the endorsement and support of Councilmember John D’Amico and I will be hosting my first fundraiser at his home on November 13th.
West Hollywood requires change now! The past year has been devastating for so many, and the City needs a common-sense and collaborative approach to recovery. Our city government needs to work with the stores, restaurants, bars, hotels, coffee shops and employers of all sizes so they come back stronger and West Hollywood returns to being a great place to work and live.
We need to take an intentional approach towards our public safety as crime has increased in the City and we need to explore ways to expand services while implementing effective yet non-invasive ways to keep our streets safe. We also need to be proactive, not reactive, in how we tackle homelessness in our city. Addressing homelessness is as much about preventative measures as it is about increased outreach, compassion and services.
Also, as a City we know that representation matters and we must strive for a City that is inclusive for all — elders, students, religious minorities, the disabled, our sober community and more. We must continue to look at the ways in which the City is not accessible and create a welcoming and accessible environment for everyone. Our city is creative and innovative, diversity keeps it that way.
What do you enjoy in your spare time?
I love to travel so in my spare time I explore new countries. I have traveled to Turkey, Israel, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, France, Italy, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and several US states. I plan to explore Colombia next.
And your favorite places to eat, shop and play in WeHo?
Half of the members of my chamber are located in West Hollywood so don’t get me in trouble! I will say that in my 26 years in this City, I have experienced so many incredible moments in the amazing businesses and facilities here. From celebrity-laden rooftop fundraisers at luxury hotels to impassioned speeches at outdoor rallies; crowds coming together to protest unjust legislation to impromptu block parties to celebrate marriage equality. I have memories of iconic LGBTQ spaces of yesteryear like the Palms Bar and Little Frida’s and when the Abbey was a third the size it is now. I also remember parties at the Firehouse, when Fubar first opened, and when the French Market and Eat Well were staples. This wonderful city molded me and gave me the space to grow as an activist. In many ways, West Hollywood is a model that other municipalities can learn from but that does not mean that we do not have work to do. I am ready and willing to put in the work.