TV station names CUSD board member ‘Local Hero’
Steven Llanusa finds it ironic he would be called a hero for doing what most people aspire to do: creating a family with the person he loves.
Nonetheless, the Claremont Unified School District board member was happy to accept the accolade when KCET awarded him the title of “Local Hero” this June in honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. The award was presented in a ceremony held Wednesday, June 27 at the City Club in Los Angeles.
“I really think the KCET award, though in my name, truly recognizes my family,” Mr. LLanusa, a longtime teacher, said.
The KCET honor is given to “exemplary community leaders who strive to enrich the lives of others.” It is a description embodied by Mr. Llanusa, who has lived very openly in Claremont since 1995 with his husband Glenn Miya, a physician specializing in internal medicine and pediatrics.
Now in his second term on the CUSD board, Mr. Llanusa—the technology coordinator at a science/magnet school in San Bernardino County—has given his time to a wide variety of organizations.
He has served on the UCLA alumni board, is president of the Claraboya Homeowner’s Association, and is active with local arts groups like the Inland Valley Repertory Theater. He helped found the Pop Luck Club, an organization supporting gay fathers, and is working with the Human Rights Campaign on Welcoming Schools to create a workshop aimed at reducing the bullying of LGBT students.
Activism and service are what Mr. Llanusa is all about, his husband noted.
“Steven is a humanitarian. There aren’t many of those around,” Dr. Miya said. “He has an intense inborn sense of fairness and integrity, and he’s extremely energetic and interested in all aspects of his life.”
The term husband is being used as opposed to the more usual phrase for same-sex unions, partner, because Mr. Llanusa and Dr. Miya were married during the 3-month window where gay marriage was legal in California.
On August 8, 2008, Butch Henderson, a now-retired pastor at United Church of Christ, officiated over a backyard wedding attended by friends and family. Mementos from the ceremony like cake-topping figurines (both grooms) and 2 crystal goblets decorated with satin tuxedos hold an honored place on a shelf in their living room.
The couple, who has been together for 26 years, says they never thought they would have the opportunity to wed. Three months after they tied the knot, Proposition 8 put an end to gay marriage in the state. Couples married during the period where same-sex unions were legal were allowed to keep their married status.
Mr. Llanusa disagrees with the amendment.
“In our lifetime, it was illegal for people of different races to get married in some states,” he said. “Marriage evolves, just as society does.”
Much of his advocacy for gay marriage is done simply by staying in the public eye as an openly gay community member with a family.
Mr. Llanusa and Dr. Miya live in a mid-century style home with 3 adoptive sons—twins Alex and Aaron, 21, and Eric, 19, all Claremont High School graduates. Two Weimaraner dogs named Cyril and Stritch also have the run of the house.
“They needed a home and we needed a family,” Mr. Llanusa said of his boys. “It worked out very well.”
Having a family has made Mr. Llanusa a more sympathetic teacher and Dr. Miya a more sympathetic pediatrician, they say.
“When you’re a gay parent, you don’t take anything for granted,” Dr. Miya shared. “This is a choice. This is not an accident.”
In 1999, they made their guardianship permanent, becoming one of the first couples in the state to fulfill a same-sex joint adoption.
“My parents were role models to us ever since we got adopted. We learned from them,” their son Alex said. “Their accomplishments for earning the award are very meaningful.”
From the start, the couple has sought to ingrain the importance of community activism in their sons. Aaron has volunteered at Ability First, Alex has volunteered at Pilgrim Place and Eric has given his time to the Key Club. All 3 are active with the local Red Cross.
“I have been volunteering since I’ve lived in Claremont,” Eric said. “I like it. I meet a lot of people, and it gives me something to do.”
Sometimes being in the public eye and working with decision-makers fosters criticism. Mr. Llanua has made some independent decisions, casting the sole dissenting vote on the board with regards to several hot-button issues. These include his lack of support of the Measure CL school bond; his effort to retain former Sumner Principal Frank D’Emilio in the face of dismissal from the district (Mr. D’Emilio has since been reinstated); and his lone nay vote on Interim Superintendent Gloria Johnston’s contract.
His reputation as “a questioner” is well-deserved, Mr. Llanusa said.
“As a school board member, due diligence is expected of me. I make sure I understand issues before I vote on them. I always vote my conscience. It’s certainly easier to go along to get along, but I’m not known for doing things in an easy way.”
He is, however, known as a trailblazer, questioner and family man. And thanks to KCET, Mr. Llanusa is now known as a hero.
He says he will continue to engage in the myriad activities that brought him to the notice of the community television station. And if the Beatles got by with a little help from their friends, Mr. Llanusa will continue to get by with the help of the 4 people he loves most.
“A lot of these things I’m able to do because of my family. They’re supportive of what I do, either directly or by taking care of the house while I’m doing other things.”