Nevada County’s Shannan Moon becomes California’s first openly-gay sheriff
Special to The Union
Shannan Moon has made history by being elected Nevada County’s first female sheriff and California’s first openly-gay sheriff.
Her general election opponent conceded Monday, when the latest vote tally showed Moon’s 28,107 votes (57.8 percent) leading over Bill Smethers’ 20,498 vote total (42.2 percent) was insurmountable with only 3,000 ballots remaining to be counted.
Moon emerged from a field of three candidates to replace Sheriff Keith Royal, who is retiring after first being elected in 1998. Moon and Smethers advanced to the general election after coming in first and second, respectively, in the June primary. Former Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster came in third and didn’t advance.
The sheriff-elect’s journey to the top of Nevada County’s largest law enforcement agency has been marked with both bias and blessings.
BEYOND HER DREAMS
The 50-year-old sheriff-elect grew up in Nevada City in the 1970s and ’80s facing questions about her identity and future.
“I didn’t feel different than anyone else, but I just knew I was different,” said Moon. “When I told my parents that I thought I was gay, they were concerned because they didn’t want me to live a life of pain and struggles.
“They have always been supportive and told me to just be me.”
Because gay marriage was illegal in California, Moon accepted that some of life’s milestones, such as marriage and parenthood, could not be part of her future.
“I never dreamed of being married or having a wedding ceremony,” she said. “Having children was out of the question because it involved expensive medical procedures that I knew I could never afford.”
Everything changed in 2010. Moon met the love of her life, Amy Perez, at a local coffee shop.
“When I met Amy, she had three wonderful daughters,” said Moon. “I didn’t just fall in love with Amy. She absolutely changed my life. I had been in long-term relationships before, but I always put my career first. I always felt as if I had to prove myself and be better than everyone else at work, which meant all my energy was spent there.
“Amy and her three girls showed me a side of life I never knew was possible. I care more about them than myself. I want to see them succeed, and I want to be a better person because of their love and support.”
When gay marriage became legal, Amy popped the question. In May 2014, before gathered friends and family, Amy’s daughters walked her down the aisle and the Moons became a family.
Marrying Amy, who is a county deputy probation officer, was “the best day of my life,” said Moon.
GROWTH FROM DEEP ROOTS
Family is important to Moon, personally and professionally. Her father was a Nevada County deputy and Nevada City chief who instilled in her a strong work ethic. A 1986 Nevada Union High School graduate, Moon started working for the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office in 1990. For the next 28 years, she served under four different sheriffs.
“I worked hard and always supported my team, my supervisors, and my mission,” said Moon. “With every contact and every conversation, I tried to provide the best service. My parents always taught us to treat people the way you want to be treated and without judgment.”
Moon, however, felt she didn’t receive that same treatment from some male co-workers and supervisors.
“A few were not happy that I, a female, was there,” recalled Moon. “That fueled me to work harder. The ‘locker room mentality’ was alive and well, and for some, I was a threat to their good ol’ boy ways.”
Moon realized she had chosen a male-dominated career and that she would never completely fit in. But she said being a gay woman has sometimes been an asset.
“I was able to explain why I wasn’t interested romantically in any of them,” said Moon. “It also made it easier for my male co-workers to tell their girlfriends and wives they were working all hours of the night with a woman, which headed off any hints of jealousy.”
Intensely competitive and tenacious, Moon applied for every promotion available at the sheriff’s office. She was the first woman promoted to the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, and captain in the history of the agency dating back to 1851.
“I asked for jobs that no one else wanted and worked outside my comfort zone,” said Moon. “Those promotions were a tremendous honor. They were based on my hard work, but I also received mentoring and support from several guys who believed in me. I learned so much from some amazing men about being a good deputy and a good partner.”
While it may sound cliché, Moon said her decision to run for sheriff was prompted by her desire to give back to the community.
“I love Nevada County, the people here, and our beautiful environment,” said Moon. “The sheriff’s office has given me a tremendous amount of training to provide the best services to this community. My campaign was not about me. It was about serving Nevada County at the highest level.”
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
After deciding to run for sheriff, Moon assembled a campaign team that was diverse in both gender and political views. The team met weekly.
“We discussed what we had accomplished and what we needed to accomplish both short- and long-term,” recalled Moon. “During our meetings, we would laugh, cry, argue, and agree on many subjects, but we always had respect for one another.”
Out on the campaign trail for 18 months, Moon said she loved meeting new people and learning what they expect from the sheriff’s office. But she didn’t like how the sheriff’s race divided her agency.
“I was the only person in operations who had been working for our agency during the last contested races for sheriff,” said Moon. “I lived through the politics as a deputy sheriff when Sheriff (Keith) Royal ran and lost, then ran and won in the late 1990s. It was not pleasant.
“So when I ran, I explained to the deputies that I had no intention of creating a divisive work environment, and I expected everyone to be professional and focus on doing their best at their jobs.”
Another campaign negative was all the time away from her daughters and her parents.
“My wonderful, amazing parents are 81 and 79 years old,” Moon said. “Nine days before the general election, my mom called in the middle of the night to say my dad was in the emergency room. I thought we were going to lose him.”
Moon’s father had gall bladder surgery just days before the election and is now on the long road to recovery.
“He has been my hero my entire life and I am so blessed to have him as my dad,” said Moon, one of four siblings.
Moon, who will take office in January, said she’s now focused on fulfilling her campaign promises.
“I respect our employees and will encourage open dialogue about how we can improve,” said Moon. “We will have many challenges to overcome together and I am committed to showing up, being available, and leading us into the future from the top of our amazing organization.”
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. She can be reached at LorraineJewettWrties@gmail.com.
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