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New year, unwavering resolution

I'm waiting eagerly for the start of a new year. 2010 is not just any year for me; it's the 20th anniversary of my first role with the board of an organization working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

In 1989, a domestic partnership registry had been created by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and signed into law by then Mayor Art Agnos, only to be overturned a few months later by the voters. In 1990, I fought to win that registry back at the ballot box by joining the executive board of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, a local San Francisco organization affiliated with the Democratic Party. Along with the other members of the board, I spent months of my life working to restore the registry. We were successful, although we again had to defeat a measure to overturn it in 1991. We made San Francisco the third city to have a domestic partnership registry, behind only Berkeley and West Hollywood.

Progress is always slower than we want it to be, and it often takes years to see the impact of our work. San Francisco Supervisor Harry Britt, a friend of Harvey Milk, had tried in 1982 to enact a domestic partnership registry but it was vetoed by then Mayor Dianne Feinstein (who now supports marriage equality). It took another seven years to see the policy pass and another year beyond that to ensure that it wouldn't be overturned again. The early attempts from almost a decade before helped to put the wind at our backs in 1990. Still, it took long, hard hours and almost more dedication than we thought we could give.

By the same token, our work today to restore marriage for same-sex couples and to secure full LGBT rights is riding on the progress that has been made before. Someday soon, I know we will have full equality in California and across the nation.

In the meantime, we've had some big successes for LGBT rights in California this year. We have much to celebrate.

New Laws in 2010
On January 1, 2010, hundreds if not thousands of same-sex couples will be considered married. In 2009 we passed SB 54, which goes into effect on the first day of 2010. SB 54 holds that all same-sex couples who married in other states or countries before Proposition 8 passed are recognized as married in California. SB 54 also holds that same-sex couples who marry out of state anytime after Prop 8’s passage must be given all the rights and responsibilities of marriage, minus use of the word itself. It's a huge step we were able to take to protect our families and demonstrate that Prop 8 is a blight on our state constitution.

We also passed a bill providing LGBT people with greater access to domestic violence services. Nonprofits will have access to funding that will help them expand their domestic violence prevention programs for LGBT people.

And Harvey Milk finally has his day in California: Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill establishing May 22 of each year as Harvey Milk Day. We'll use this day to encourage schools to address bullying of LGBT students, making our schools safer and more welcoming of all kinds of diversity. We'll help teachers, parents and students across the state ensure that their schools have age-appropriate curriculums for Harvey Milk Day to teach about Milk's legacy and LGBT history. Through this work, people will come to understand that teaching our young people about LGBT experiences builds stronger communities. We'll take one of our adversaries' main messages away from them.

Inequality doesn't stop at the state level, so neither can we. We passed resolutions through the Assembly and Senate supporting the Uniting American Families Act, an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as well as calling for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act and the ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men. Our legislature is now on record as supporting these important federal policies. And we're calling on President Obama and his administration to file a brief supporting the federal case against Proposition 8.

In 2009 we helped Curren Price win election to the state Senate, representing District 26, and we helped Steve Bradford win election to the Assembly, representing District 51. Both candidates support same-sex marriage, and both defeated anti-LGBT equality opponents, showing that elected officials and candidates are not harmed by supporting LGBT rights. EQCA field staff worked hard on these races, and our members mobilized to help these two candidates win their seats.

Our community can make a difference in elections, and 2010 will present a lot of opportunities - we'll be electing a new governor and a new attorney general, and key congressional and state legislative races will be hotly contested. EQCA’s PAC only endorses candidates who are 100 percent on LGBT rights, including marriage equality. We'll begin releasing endorsements early in 2010.

Our Field Team and Marriage Work
We hired some of the most talented people to ramp up our efforts to build support for marriage for same-sex couples, including Marc Solomon and Amy Mello, who both worked to preserve marriage equality in Massachusetts, and Andrea Shorter, a longtime coalition builder and political advocate from the Bay Area.

We now have 20 experienced and dedicated full-time field organizers in nine offices across the state who work day in and day out to build support for marriage equality and LGBT rights. These organizers and thousands of volunteers have engaged in hundreds of thousands of conversations on marriage across the state.

We also aired three new television ads featuring same-sex couples and their families to help Californians understand why marriage matters.

We took on a new challenge this year, building out our Health and Human Services Network under the coordination of Daniel Gould. The Network has grown rapidly to include dozens of health and human service organizations from across the state. It held its first briefing in Sacramento less than a month ago. The Network also was granted $444,000 from the California Department of Mental Health to research the mental health challenges of LGBT people, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, substance abuse and suicide. On completion, the work done under this grant will guide providers in creating effective, culturally competent programs for LGBT people.

The challenges to the state budget put many of our HIV/AIDS services and organizations at risk, but we made our voice heard. EQCA members and supporters told our representatives in Sacramento how important it is to take care of our most vulnerable, even in times of crisis. Some cuts still occurred, but we were able to fend off the bulk of the cuts and will continue to push for preservation of these critical services as long as we must.

Community Action and Engagement
As a community, we rallied hard this year. Nearly 1,000 people attended EQCA's Lobby Day in Sacramento this past spring, making it the biggest LGBT lobby day in our state's history. Over 150,000 people sent messages to legislators and Governor Schwarzenegger, and more than 75,000 phone calls were made from EQCA offices across the state by hardy volunteers. Your time and energy moved voters, passed bills and helped our representatives in Sacramento to stand up for LGBT rights.

We also heard your thoughts through live town halls, online town halls, our blog and our profiles on Facebook and Twitter. We'll continue to create chances for you to share your perspectives both online and in real time throughout 2010. We're continually integrating your feedback to ensure that the work we do represents the priorities of LGBT people and our allies.

1990 was a difficult year. At times we were afraid that our efforts would fail and that San Francisco would not win back domestic partnership. But by working hard we turned things around and won our rights back that year. Progress towards equality may feel slow, but it is certain. Make it your New Year's resolution to join us in 2010 to build support for LGBT rights. If we all give our time, money and effort, we'll speed up the day when full equality arrives.