A school teacher for nearly three decades and a longtime activist, my commitment to community and social justice was shaped by my parents and life experiences.
I was born in 1964 in Sacramento to Willard and Doris Weddell, one of three sisters and a twin. We moved to Kern County when my dad became the Kern County Public Defender in 1968. I grew up in Park Stockdale and graduated from West High.
My dad was the longest-serving public defender in California when he retired in 1996 and the current public defender’s building at Truxtun and L streets is named in his honor. Before my parents divorced, I remember family dinners where he would share stories of how his office stood up for human rights. This set the foundation for my social justice and human rights activism.
My mom was a Kern County Librarian in Lamont, which began my love affair with areas south of Bakersfield. She was well known internationally as a Dust Bowl historian. She spearheaded the now long-running Dust Bowl Days in Weedpatch and was responsible for helping preserve the buildings at the old Sunset Labor Camp; a museum at the camp site is a testament to her determination.
My own activism was sparked in 1981, following a notorious double homicide in Bakersfield, in which two gay men were killed by a local businessman. The courts acquitted the assailant of murder but guilty of involuntary manslaughter — as if the shootings were an accident — and a protest began. A high school student at the time, I joined the quickly growing protest on the unjust verdict and became part of an effort that helped galvanize the local gay community.
I later earned a degree in history from California State University Bakersfield. I began teaching at Washington Middle School in Bakersfield where I came to see the world through the eyes of students who did not grow up in the comfortable middle-class neighborhood of my youth. They taught me to reconsider many of my preconceived notions about ethnicity and language, poverty and resilience. I taught U.S. History, Geography and the Constitution, but I am quite convinced that I learned just as much — if not more — from my students.
I joined the Kern High School District 15 years ago, teaching Government, Economics, Health, English and Parenting at Nueva High School in Lamont. Teaching continuation students has taught me so much about people whose backgrounds are different from my own. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity, no matter where they come from. This, combined with my father’s human rights lectures of my childhood, has set me on a path to stand for all people.
In 2003, I became a chapter leader for upstart Marriage Equality California, and this led to the founding of Bakersfield LGBTQ, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of our local community members. The grassroots LGBTQ group spearheaded efforts to support Marriage Equality, reduce bullying and suicide, and increase awareness of the importance of LGBTQ people in Kern County. I served as chair of LGBTQ until September 2017, when I left to help launch a chapter of the Stonewall Democrats of Kern. I also help train CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers on LGBTQ issues.
Today, I am legally-married to Lori Renee. We have three grown sons and four grandchildren. We live happily with our three dogs — Paco, Sargent and Miss Waddles — in Pumpkin Center.