(888) 277-4253

Leaders respond to first gay California assembly speaker

Monday marked a historic milestone as Assemblymember John A. Pérez becomes California’s first openly gay Speaker of the Assembly.

Read on for statements from movement leaders Geoff Kors of Equality California, Jarrett Barrios from GLAAD, Rea Carey from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and fellow out Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.

Geoff Kors, executive director, Equality California: California is a true trail blazer
EQCA is thrilled to welcome Assemblymember John A. Pérez as Speaker of the Assembly. With his indispensible leadership and stellar track record, we have the utmost confidence in his ability to find solutions to the many challenges California faces.

California is a true trail blazer with respect to reflecting the state's diversity in our leadership, as we witnessed in the groundbreaking election of the first female African-American Speaker two years ago and now the first LGBT Speaker.

Speaker Pérez is a role model and an inspiration to the LGBT community, especially to LGBT youth struggling to find acceptance at home and in school. We wish him the very best of luck as he embarks on this momentous journey and look forward to continuing our partnership with him in our mission to achieve full equality for LGBT Californians.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano: A moment shared by all
This Monday, when my friend John Pérez is sworn in as Speaker of the Assembly, it will be a moment that symbolizes both an important accomplishment of how far we in the LGBT community have come and at the same time, the stark reality of the long path that still lies before us. Contrary to the arguments made in the federal Prop. 8 case, equality hasn’t been reached—nor has anything remotely close been achieved. For while I am very proud to have the first ever openly gay Speaker—of any state—there are still very few elected officials in history that are openly gay.

In California, the list of state LGBT electeds is distinguished but short – including only Sheila Kuehl, Christine Kehoe, Carole Migden, Jackie Goldberg, Mark Leno, John Laird, John Pérez and myself. Other LGBT people have eyed runs for elected office up and down California. Some have managed to win local seats while many have lost. Some have eyed seats in the Legislature but few have run because many Californians still won’t support LGBT candidates. Never has an openly transgender person won a seat here—and few have managed to secure jobs in state government.

But now with John’s ascension to Speaker, I believe that new opportunities to access public office are being created across many different communities. John is not only the first openly gay Speaker; he is the first ever openly gay person of color elected to serve in the Legislature. He was also elected from a district which is strongly Latino and not always supportive of LGBT people. John didn’t win because he is gay—it in fact made his election more difficult. He won because his constituents value his lifelong commitment to the issues that matter – to workers, to healthcare, to a quality education, to the Latino community and to all of the people of Los Angeles.

For those in the LGBT community who have been elected to office, John’s selection as Speaker is a reminder that it is our political leadership, which is so rooted in an appreciation of the struggles our community has overcome, that sets us apart. Taking a stand for social justice is what inspired Harvey Milk and what continues to drive our caucus today. Congratulations, John. This is a moment that is shared by all and which builds a foundation for future generations of LGBT leaders. We haven’t achieved equality yet, but we will.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, represents the 13th Assembly District.

Jarrett Barrios, executive director, GLAAD: Another glass ceiling shatters
Today John Pérez begins as California’s 68th Speaker of the Assembly. I first met John at the Democratic National Convention in 2000 and then worked with him on the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). It is a great achievement to move from Assemblyman to Speaker, and to do so in such a short span of time speaks to Pérez’ person and political acumen.

He becomes the first openly gay person to lead the state Assembly. After serving as Massachusetts’ first Latino and first openly gay state Senator, I know firsthand what this means for the thousands of young Latino children and LGBT youth. It lets our youth know that sexual orientation and race are no longer insurmountable barriers. Glass ceilings continue to be broken, and voters as well as the lawmakers of California have sent a clear message that decisions are being made based on who is best for the job.

This new role is also important for California’s Latino population, who might not come in contact with many LGBT people like them. This visible position showcases another member of the Latino community who is openly gay and shares the values of hard work and family that resonate throughout Latino families. We must continue to increase the visibility of our community among Latino and other diverse populations to build the public support needed for our equality. This work to share our stories is especially needed among populations like Latinos where our visibility is low and homophobia is all too common. This is the work that Equality California’s Let California Ring and GLAAD are working to accomplish through helping to train local individuals to speak out and by bringing stories of LGBT people of color and allies to millions.

John’s new role helps to accomplish the goal of showcasing the common ground and dreams that we all share for ourselves and our families. I congratulate John on his new role and know that he will use his voice to advocate for full equality for all people.

Jarrett Barrios is the president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). He is a former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and state Senator.

Rea Carey, executive director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: Cheering coast to coast
The Task Force family coast to coast joins in cheering John Pérez, both for his achievement in becoming California's Speaker of the Assembly and how he spotlights the goals of our movement.

John's ascension to one of the most powerful legislative positions in the world testifies that the personal adversity and challenges that many LGBT people face can be crucibles of great leadership. His stepping into this important role comes at a time when economic fear and uncertainty are hitting home across California and the country. And it bears witness to the fact that LGBT people every day earn, enjoy and deserve the trust of our closest colleagues. This fact is at the heart of our struggle to overcome the delay and double-talk of national politics and pass nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people into federal law.

John's success also speaks to the fact that many institutions— including unions, HIV/AIDS organizations, and public service itself — are important channels of advancement for the diverse and talented members of the nation's LGBT community. The fact that we can and often do excel beyond measure or expectation when given an honest chance is central to our goal of repealing the unjust, cruel, foolish and wasteful barrier still shamefully in place for openly LGBT people in the military.

More than 30 years ago, a trailblazing crusader for equality in California imagined a day when LGBT people might gain positions of leadership like the one John Pérez assumes as Speaker. That was Harvey Milk, who spoke of opportunity as a doorway. John Pérez has pushed open that door a little further and is taking a step forward for all of us.

Rea Carey is executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.