California Governor Jerry Brown, others honored by Equality California

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At the Sacramento Equality Awards on March 10, where California Governor Jerry Brown was honored with Equality California’s Leadership Award, he praised LGBT advocates for being on the “cutting edge” of equality.

Speaking at the reception, Brown said in a speech, “When people are in the shadows, the only way out is courage and being able to go against the grain and having allies.” In turn, he honored Equality California for its work in advancing LGBT rights, comparing the struggle to that of immigrant rights.

According to an advance press release by Equality California, Brown received the Leadership Award for “his remarkable support and advocacy for the California LGBT community, including his brave championing of the School Success and Opportunity Act.” Also known as Assembly Bill 1266, the act requires “that a pupil be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.” Brown, who had always been supportive of the bill, signed it into law on August 12, 2013.

The presenter of the award, Robert Ross, spoke of Brown’s history of support, calling him the country’s first politician to “openly, powerfully and compellingly embrace gay rights.” Brown made history for appointing a gay judge in 1979—making him the first governor in the US to do so.

He showed his support for LGBT rights had not diminished after becoming the governor of California again in 2011 with the signing of AB 1266, even though it had proved controversial. Opponents of the act attempted to put a referendum on the 2014 ballot, but were unable to collect the required number of signatures.

According to SF Gate, Brown didn’t reference the act directly, but instead spoke of how much had changed over the decades. When he first got into politics, he said, “there was nothing like the recognition, the appreciation or the respect that lesbian and gay, transgender, bisexual individuals now get.

“It’s a sea change. And it really gives confidence that we do make a difference.”

Other honorees included Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who took home the Vanguard Award “for his bold work during the Winter of Love and his continued advocacy for LGBT equality,” and Dr. Swati Rao of UC-Davis, who was honored “with the State Farm Good Neighbor Award for her fantastic work supporting transgender patients.”

Though Brown has had his conflicts with Newsom, he still took time out to praise him as well. Noting that legislation is not the only possible path to social or legal change, he said that Newsom’s 2004 order to the San Francisco city-county clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples “probably did more in that one act as mayor of San Francisco than probably 1,000 laws,” he said. “So action, courage, standing up…when somebody isn’t—that’s what makes a leader.”

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