Shelly Bailes and Ellen Pontac have become the town "poster children" for gay rights. The two women, who have lived in a committed relationship for well over three decades and who raised their family in Davis, are at the forefront of the fight for gay rights in Davis, in California, and in the country. Both are active as founders and heads of the local chapter of Marriage Equality California.
Gay Rights Activism
In February of 2004, the San Francisco County Clerk, at the direction of Mayor Gavin Newsom, issued "marriage licenses" to same-sex couples, Shelly and Ellen among them, contrary to the law at that time. When the courts declared that these licenses were invalid six months later, they staged a rally at the Yolo County Registrar's office. In September 2005, they were featured in a widely seen Associated Press photo after the State assembly passed the gay marriage bill (later vetoed by the Governator). On June 16, they became the first couple officially married in Yolo County after the California Supreme Court ruled that marriage rights should extend to same-sex couples. This wedding attracted a lot of press to Woodland, as County Clerk-Recorder Freddie Oakley extended hours to officiate the ceremony.
They worked to establish the Davis Civil Rights Ordinance which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation (the first such ordinance in the country). They founded and continue to run Gay Pride Day in Davis. They ran the successful No on 22 campaign in Yolo County (Prop 22 banned gay marriage in California, but was later overturned by the California Supreme Court). Yolo County was one of only 6 counties (out of 58) to defeat the initiative and the only county not within the SF bay area. They started FORGE (FOR Gay Equality) which is part of the Diversity Coalition, a political group that puts on forums during local elections.
Shelly and Ellen have been active in raising the awareness of our community about the discriminatory policies of the Boy Scouts of America, which excludes gays and atheists. They spear-headed the local campaign to evict the local Davis Boy Scouts from the Davis Boy Scout Cabin in 2002. During this time, and while Shelly was the Chair of the City's Human Relations Commission, Shelly and Ellen also appeared in numerous newspaper articles, organized a letter writing campaign to the local media, organized picketing in front of the Boy Scout Cabin, and continue to lead an annual boycott of the local troop's Christmas Tree fundraiser. Though Shelly was supported in her efforts to force the local troops to publicly challenge the BSA National policy, many in the community felt that Shelly's aggressive political actions done at the same time that she was Chair of a commission that was supposed to be a source of mediation for such issues were divisive and at odds with the Human Relations purpose to "to promote mutual respect, understanding and tolerance between all persons." Shelly believed that she was standing up for the rights of boys, both gay and straight. All she did, though, was force the Boy Scouts out of their long-time home as BSA National's leadership doesn't really care about such issues and is set in their ways for the foreseeable future.
They have worked to get the city to move bicycle racks from the Free Speech Area to a place closer to the carousel at the Davis Farmers Market, convinced the city to get rid of the rats underneath the redwood deck at the Farmers Market, got signs placed up on the corner of Russell Blvd. and A St. to keep motorists from entering A St. going the wrong way, and got Unitrans to add additional sign frames to the double decker buses to allow small organizations, and not just big businesses, to advertise themselves
- They usher at the Mondavi Center.
- They were board members of DCTV
- Shelly volunteered at the Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence Center
- Every week for two years they did clinic defense at a local gynecology office, protecting women who were coming for abortions.
- Both volunteer for Davis Community Meals. Shelly has served on the board, Ellen volunteers as a cook and has been doing that for 10 years.
- They are members of the Davis Food Co-op and they both help with the Davis Food Co-op annual Holiday Meal, with Ellen in charge of volunteers and Shelly in charge of fund-raising where over the past two years Shelly has personally raised over $22,500 for local charities
- Work with the LGBTRC on campus
- They are regular participants at the Peace Vigil on the E Street Plaza
- They served monthly meals to the needy at Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento for several years
- Shelly served as a liaison for the gay community and the Davis Police Dept and is at present(?) one of the twelve members of the Citizen's Advisory Board working with the Davis Police Department
- The Spice Girls Award from The UCD Chancellor's Committee on LGBT Issues in 1998
- The Freedom From Want Award of The Four Freedoms Awards from the Sacramento Stonewall Democratic Club in 2004
- The Pink Badge of Courage Award from Code Pink, Davis in 2005
- Grand Marshals of the Sacramento Pride Parade in June, 2005
- Grand Marshals as part of Marriage Equality California in San Francisco Pride Parade in June, 2004
- Thong Hy Huynh Lifetime Achievement Award in June, 2006, awarded by the Davis City Council
- Best of Sacramento Award to Ellen awarded by Sacramento News and Review
Shelly served on the Human Relations Commission, but resigned before the end of her term after a disagreement over the nomination of her partner, Ellen Pontac, for one of the Human Relations Commission's annual Thong H. Huynh Awards. Some commissioners felt that because Shelly was Chair at the time, it was inappropriate for Ellen to be given the award. Some felt that due to Shelly's personal relationship with Ellen she should recuse herself from voting. There was evidence that Shelly had lobbied members of the commission to give Ellen an award. Two commissioners left the meeting in protest over what they considered unethical conduct by Shelly over the vote. Others refused to vote. With two commissioners voting for Ellen and two commissioners voting against extending the award at that time, Shelly felt that Ellen was deserving and, regardless of commissioners' concerns, cast the tie-breaking vote to give Ellen the award. After the heated discussion that followed, Ellen removed her name from consideration and the award was given to another person, but the incident had a damaging effect on the commissioner's confidence in Shelly as Chair. A special meeting was scheduled by commission members to discuss the possibility of having Shelly removed as Chair. On the day of that scheduled meeting, Shelly resigned as chair and member of the Human Relations Commission citing an inability to work effectively in a "hostile environment" with people who disagreed with her. Many of the commissioners and City Council members felt she should stay on as a member, but Shelly resigned.
After being nominated by community member BevSykes for the Human Relations Commission's awards for 5 years in a row and not being awarded one by the commission, in June 2006 the City Council gave both Ellen and Shelly the Lifetime Achievement award. Bev Sykes' personal website, http://www.funnytheworld.com/2006/June/15.htm, tells of her frustration regarding this situation, including asking and getting Supervisor Helen Thomson to nominate Shelly and Ellen in 2006. Shelly has claimed that there are members of the community who believe that Ellen was not given the award due to homophobia on the part of commission members.
On June 27, 2006, at the same meeting where Shelly and Ellen finally received the Huynh award, the Davis City Council voted to put the HRC on hiatus and remove the present members. During public comment on this item, Shelly made the following statement: "Shelly Bailes. Former member of the Human Relations Commission and former chair. And today I am speaking as former member and former chair of the Human Relations Commission. The Human Relations Commission is a very respected commission, or it was at one time. The fact that some people are speaking against it today means to me that it has lost some of its respect. Our city is now at odds and when everyone is yelling, no one hears anything. I think that our chair of the Human Relations Commission is very ineffective and she should step down. I think that would be the best thing for the Human Relations Commission and for the City. Thank you." - From the streaming video of the June 27, 2006 City Council meeting, City of Davis website, (5:43:35).
It is noted that out of 36 people speaking during public comment on this issue, 27 people spoke in support of the HRC and/or its current chair and 9 against. The supporters included 3 former mayors; 4 former chairs of the HRC; representatives from both the ACLU and BECA. Norbie Kumagai and Shelly were the only former members of the HRC, and Shelly the only former chair, that spoke against the current commission during public comment. Steve Souza, also a former chair of the HRC, as a city councilman voted to place the commission on hiatus and remove its members.
Bob Dunning's wrote in the Davis Enterprise "Shelly Bailes told one local newspaper that HRC chairwoman Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald should resign because she has been ineffective and divisive …Bailes' comments didn't sit well with some folks in the community who expected her knee to jerk predictably in favor of both the HRC and its embattled chairwoman, but Shelly's ability and willingness to take each issue as it comes, without a pre-existing bias, is what has made her such an effective advocate in this community."
In September 2006, Shelly submitted her application for re-appointment to the re-organized Davis Human Relations Commission. On Sept. 19, 2006 she was re-appointed for the third time to the HRC for a two-year term.
In June 2008, they became the first Yolo County gay couple to be married.
Randomly (?) featured in this photo on SFGate of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade.
Shelly and Ellen frequently have Letters to the Editor published in the Enterprise (either together or alone), on a variety of topics.
2006-09-19 12:59:39 If she gets selected this will demonstrate just how far the Council has sunk to re-appoint someone who resigned from the commission in disgrace —HenryBianco
2008-06-18 14:42:21 There's a picture of them on page 6 of the 6/23/08 edition of Newsweek. —NoelBruening