By Geoff Kors, Executive Director Equality California, dot429 Founding Member
It is with a very real sense of gratitude for all you are doing to advance equality that I am announcing that I will be stepping down from my position as Executive Director of Equality California at the end of my ninth year. I will formally step aside on March 31, 2011. It has been a true honor and a privilege to lead Equality California and serve the state’s LGBT community. When you think back to how far we have come in less than a decade, it is breathtaking.
Nine years ago, California’s same-sex couples had access to fewer than 15 of the more than 400 state rights and benefits we now enjoy. Transgender individuals could legally be fired from their jobs, discriminated against in housing, refused public accommodation and denied the most routine health care. Domestic partners were charged thousands of dollars more than married couples for the same insurance. LGBT youth were not allowed to see a therapist without their parents’ consent. State contractors could deny equal benefits to their employees in same-sex relationships. And more than 60 percent of Californians opposed marriage equality. Today, all that has changed, and I want to thank each and every one of you for your support and dedication. You truly made all of this possible.
What we have accomplished together has been phenomenal.
Working in partnership with the LGBT Legislative Caucus, allied legislators and our coalition partners, a national record of 71 pieces of Equality California-sponsored legislation have been passed by the State Legislature, including bills providing same-sex couples with all the rights heterosexual married couples receive under state law, protecting LGBT youth and seniors, requiring equality in insurance and ensuring the strongest protections for transgender individuals in the nation. We also helped make history in 2005 and 2007 when the state legislature twice passed bills that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry. This is a stunning achievement, resulting in groundbreaking rights for LGBT Californians, including many sweeping protections that don’t exist anywhere else in the nation. This success would not have been possible without your support. Your phone calls, emails and lobbying visits have had a profound impact on delivering equal rights under law.
“¨We could never have achieved our legislative and policy successes without steady partners and heroic leaders in elective offices. Nine years ago, it was nearly impossible for our community to hold elected officials accountable and to demand that they support LGBT equality. But thanks to your vital support and our policy of only supporting candidates who are 100 percent in support of equality for 100 percent of the LGBT community, we’ve demonstrated that when politicians who support true equality stand up, they are rewarded at the ballot box. Together, we played a critical role in helping make history by electing a governor, attorney general and other statewide officials who support full equality for every LGBT Californian–this means supporting marriage equality, equal access to health care for transgender individuals, and protections for LGBT youth and seniors. For the first time in our history, every statewide elected official will be on record as supporting true equality for LGBT Californians.
California will also now have the most pro-LGBT legislature in history. And a record of seven openly LGBT individuals will be sworn into the Legislature on Monday, making California the first state with more than 5 percent of its legislature being openly LGBT. This year Equality California also worked hard to help elect the nation’s first transgender judge.
“¨I am particularly proud of the role that Equality California played as the organizational plaintiff in the California Supreme Court’s decision to end the state’s discriminatory ban on marriage for same-sex couples, and I’m proud ofthe Court’s crucial finding that LGBT people are a “suspect class” for discrimination. And I am particularly saddened by the slim majority that has temporarily banned marriage for all. Although California came closer than any state to defeating a ban on marriage equality–closing the gap from 23 percent in 2000 when Prop 22 was passed to 4 percent in 2008 with the passage of Prop 8–we still fell short. However, your generosity resulted in Equality California serving as the leading donor to the No on 8 campaign. Since November 2008 we have added more than 350,000 supporters of marriage equality to our membership, and together we are moving public opinion. This year, for the first time in history, more than 50 percent of California voters now support marriage equality.
::Health and Human Services
“¨I am proud of our efforts to create and lead the California LGBT Health and Human Services Network, a coalition of more than 50 organizations working to improve the well-being of LGBT Californians. This year the Network successfully obtained state funding to assess the mental health needs of the community, and I’m confident that this collaboration will result in improved services for all LGBT Californians.
“¨While we have achieved historic results many of us thought impossible during our lifetimes, we still remain unequal under the law. But thanks to your support and the results of the November election, we have not only made incredible progress, but we have unprecedented opportunities to achieve true equality, to grow greater acceptance, and to improve the lives of LGBT Californians.
And with your continued support in the years ahead, Equality California and all of us will do just that.
I will be working with the Board of Directors on our 2011 goals, including an aggressive package of legislative and administrative reforms designed to make schools safer, ensure transgender individuals have access and coverage for all needed health care, and obtain funding for LGBT health and human services. In fact, we just introduced a new bill to help curb bullying. LGBT youth deserve to thrive in school and in life.
But to thrive, they need to feel safe and confident. They need to see and be inspired by LGBT role models who are changing the world for the better. Too many of our youth are struggling with harassment, feelings of worthlessness and even suicidal thoughts. We have to make our schools safer and more positive environments for LGBT youth. The FAIR Education Act, SB 48, authored by Senator Mark Leno, will help do just that.
Existing laws require classes in the social sciences–including history, sociology, anthropology and similar subjects–to teach students about the contributions of men and women, racial and ethnic minorities and other groups. The FAIR Education Act, sponsored by Equality California and the GSA Network, would require these same classes to teach students about the contributions of LGBT people.
This important Act would also prevent the use of teaching materials that have negative images of peoplefor beingLGBT. Current laws already protect other groups in this way.
This bill can give LGBT youth hope, both for their future and for their lives today. All students will learn about how LGBT people have helped shape history, helping them to better understand their LGBT classmates.
We also will work to prepare for special elections in 2011 and for our statewide redistricting process, which could dramatically change the make-up of the legislature after the 2012 elections. We are also working on plans to make sure more LGBT individuals are appointed and elected to the judicial bench.
Within our organization, we now will discuss the process to ensure a smooth transition to our next Executive Director. I am committed to working closely with the board, staff, key stakeholders and the community to help make this transition as seamless as possible.
Equality California today is an unmatched team of people — a dedicated and hardworking board of directors, the most talented staff an Executive Director could ever hope to work with, and donors, members and volunteers who have made achieving equality a priority and who have done so much to bring us this far. I have been truly fortunate to work with so many wonderful people.
As Executive Director I know firsthand the impact our members and the LGBT community have had on advancing equality and improving the lives of LGBT people. Your generous financial support has allowed Equality California to continue its critical work and to enjoy unprecedented success. Your activism has helped move legislators, the governor and the public to be more supportive of our rights.
While I will miss coming to work at Equality California each day, I look forward to joining you as a dedicated supporter, knowing that it is Equality California’s members who truly fuel our work and make the difference.
Together we will create a world where equality and justice prevail.
With heartfelt appreciation,