A quiet milestone was achieved last month when L.A. school board member Jeff Horton won election to the executive committee of the California School Boards Association, putting him in line to be the group’s first openly gay president.

If past practice holds, Horton will become president-elect next year, and the following year, president of the statewide organization. The role of the association includes lobbying, training elected trustees and speaking for the state’s school boards.

To win his new post, Horton first had to overcome a distrust of anything Los Angeles that’s ingrained within trustees from some 1,000 California school districts, most of which are more rural, suburban and conservative than L.A. Unified. The matter of Horton’s sexual orientation posed a more subtle stumbling block. Ten years ago, and perhaps five years ago, being gay would probably have killed Horton’s candidacy, said association president John D’Amelio, who added that attitudes have gradually changed. Last year — when Horton also ran for office — he lost to a strong candidate from Palm Springs after splitting the local vote with an aspirant from Beverly Hills.

At this year’s convention in Anaheim, sexual orientation was never made an issue by Horton or his opponents, although Horton often has put himself front and center as an advocate for gay students in Los Angeles. The state association, by contrast, includes board members from places such as Hemet, where some school board members have contended that gay students exist only by dint of psychological disorder or perversion.

In 1995, Horton underscored his belief that gay men have a role to play in the lives of children by adopting a son with longtime partner Larry Pickens. Eight-year-old Dante is a second-grader in public school, making Horton the only L.A. school board member with a school-age child.

At the convention in Anaheim, Horton outpolled two other candidates, winning a majority on the first ballot, to become the association’s first officer from Los Angeles in recent memory.

Before the vote, “People would ask me, ‘How is Jeff?’” said L.A. school board member George Kiriyama, noting the implicit discomfort with Horton’s being gay. “I said that he is concerned about the things he talks about. And when you’re sincere, all of the other things sort of go out the window.”

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