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What’s at stake come November

PALM SPRINGS -- This year has been a truly momentous one for the LGBT community in California.

In addition to court victories ruling that both Proposition 8 and "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" are unconstitutional, we have had historic victories in the legislature, won key elections and moved public opinion on marriage equality to the point where we now have majority support.

Victories in the California Legislature

While there has been a frustrating lack of progress on the federal level to repeal DOMA, DADT and to pass ENDA, here in California we have seen significant progress on LGBT rights.

Equality California just wrapped up an incredibly fruitful legislative session where a record 14 pieces of Equality California legislation were passed, many of which included more bipartisan support than in any other year in the organization’s history.

Equality California’s 72nd and arguably most important sponsored piece of legislation passed by the Legislature this year was signed into law on September 29 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

SB 543, the Mental Health Services for At-Risk Youth Act, is a critical bill that allows youth 12 to 17 years old to receive mental health care without requiring their parents’ consent. LGBT youth across California who are fearful that their families could become abusive or kick them out if they come out or refuse to consent to their obtaining mental health services would now be able to receive the care they need.

Equality California and Senator Mark Leno made this bill a priority to address the hostile environment too many of California's young people find themselves dealing with everyday, the kind of environment that has led to bullying, hate crimes and several recent tragic and heartbreaking suicides. This bill is one critical step to provide support for LGBT and questioning youth. But we have a long way to go to end the climate of terror that those who oppose equality and promote hatred have created.

The governor also signed AB 2199 – Repeal of Discriminatory Code, that calls for the repeal of a state code mandating the search for a “gay cure,”; AB 2700– Separation Equity Act, which eliminates legal barriers for same-sex couples wishing to dissolve their domestic partnership and civil marriage simultaneously; and AB 2055– Unemployment Benefits Equality, which ensures that same-sex couples in California have access to unemployment benefits.

These critical bills advance equality and end discriminatory treatment for many LGBT Californians, and we are grateful to the bill’s authors for their leadership and to the governor for signing these bills into law.

Unfortunately, the governor vetoed AB 633, the LGBT Prisoner Safety bill, leaving corrective institutions free to continue their outrageous policy of placing LGBT prisoners in solitary confinement as a first step in supposedly protecting them from rape and other violence. He also vetoed AB 1680, the Hate Crimes Protection Act, which would have prohibited contracts requiring mandatory arbitration of hate crimes, and SB 906, the Civil Marriage Religious Freedom Act, which would have affirmed that clergy are not required to solemnize any marriage that goes against their faith, taking an argument away from opponents of marriage equality. We will continue working to enact these protections through legislative and administrative work.

This was EQCA’s busiest legislative year ever.

In addition to the Equality California bills that passed the Legislature, six resolutions passed that have become California’s official policy.

These resolutions include support for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act; overturning Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; passing the Uniting American Families Act; lifting the Food and Drug Administration ban on accepting blood donations from gay and bisexual men; urging the 2020 Census to collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity; and requesting the IRS to accept joint returns from same-sex married and registered domestic partner couples.

Why November matters

In the last decade, California has been dramatically transformed into a state with the most substantive rights and protections for LGBT community members in the nation. Over the past twelve years, close to eighty Equality California-sponsored measures have passed the state legislature, including bills creating the country’s first domestic partner registry, 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.

But we simply couldn’t have made such incredible strides without the collaboration and advocacy of elected officials who will stand with our community. In fact, fundamental issues of equality will be at stake in the November elections.

When it comes to the federal challenge of Prop. 8 and the efforts to restore the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, no offices matter more than that of governor and attorney general. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown made the unprecedented decision to not defend the discriminatory Prop. 8 in court. The state of California refused to defend its own law. Under bipartisan leadership, it withheld its skilled lawyers and immense legal resources, leaving only LGBT extremist groups to defend Prop. 8.

The moral stance of Governor Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Brown against Prop. 8 undoubtedly are key components in the victories we are having. We owe them our gratitude. As the federal case against Prop. 8 progresses, it will only become more important that our governor, attorney general and other officials be firm in standing for full LGBT equality.

Our next governor and attorney general can decide whether or not to throw the state's weight behind Prop. 8 in court.

As the most visible figureheads in our state government, they can use their influence to further our march toward full equality, or to try to prevent us from achieving full equality.

Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and attorney general candidate Kamala Harris have already said that they will refuse to defend Prop. 8 in court. However, both Steve Cooley, candidate for attorney general, gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman have pledged to defend Prop. 8.

Our opponents know that this November's elections will make a huge difference in the efforts to restore marriage equality.

The National Organization for Marriage, an anti-LGBT group, has already spent more than $600,000 trying to push anti-equality candidates into office, and they are planning to spend much more. They are backing California Assembly candidate Andrew Pugno, one of the architects of Prop. 8, and U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, who supports Prop. 8, in her bid against Senator Barbara Boxer.

Despite the vast resources of NOM and other anti-LGBT opponents, Equality California Political Action Committee, which only endorses candidates who support full equality for our entire community, has already seen key successes with our election work.

In the June primaries, Californians voted overwhelmingly for candidates who support full equality for the LGBT community, and with the dedication of our members, thousands of volunteers and our staff, we helped elect a record number of openly LGBT members of the California Legislature.

Based on the June primary, it is virtually assured that when the California Assembly and Senate kicks off the 2011 legislative session, it will be with the largest LGBT Caucus in the history of both our state and our nation, with more than five percent of legislators being openly LGBT. Our new initiative to elect more LGBT judges to the bench was also a success with all three EQCA endorsed judicial candidates either winning their elections or coming in first and facing run-offs in November.

In what is a truly historic election, Victoria Kolakowski, Alameda County judicial candidate, has a very strong chance of becoming the nation's first transgender judge. And of course, Palm Spring’s Mayor Steve Pougnet is also poised to make history. If elected, he would be the first legally married gay parent in the U.S. Congress.

With so much at stake in November, it’s absolutely vital that every member of the LGBT community and all of our allies do everything we can to elect only those candidates who are 100 percent in support of LGBT equality.

Equality Calfornia is leading the effort to turn out LGBT and allied voters. We are mailing more than a quarter of a million pieces of election mail, making tens of thousands of phone calls to supportive voters, donating money, running a major get out the vote operation targeting LGBT, allied and youth voters and putting staff and volunteers in the field to support our endorsed candidates.

Please help us support these candidates by donating, volunteering and, of course, voting. For more information, visit www.eqcapac.org.

A night to celebrate

As we reflect on our victories, and prepare for the work we have left to do, the Palm Springs Equality Awards will be a great time to recharge, reflect and celebrate.

At this year’s awards, Equality California is proud to honor an extraordinary leader and a phenomenal organization that has made a very real difference in advancing LGBT equality: Kamala Harris, San Francisco District Attorney and candidate for attorney general and the Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA Law focused on advancing sexual orientation law and public policy.

Harris actively campaigned to defeat Propositions 22 and 8, and has pledged to work to overturn Prop whether that battle is in court or at the ballot. As San Francisco District Attorney, she launched specialized programs around hate crimes, same-sex domestic violence and same-sex sexual assault, as well as organized a national conference on combating the use of gay and transgender panic defenses.

We could not have accomplished our historic feats without her longtime LGBT equality advocacy and supporting true equality for all Californians.

The Williams Institute has bolstered the movement for LGBT equality by authoring a number of seminal studies on issues ranging from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the economic benefits for state’s where same-sex couples can legally marry.

The Williams Institute’s latest book, “The Right to Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America’s Public Schools,” examines recent legal and public policy changes that affect LGBT students and educators in the public school system. They have raised critical awareness about the injustices facing LGBT Americans, helping us make the case for LGBT equality.

Finally, thanks to all of your tremendous support over the years, Equality California has been able to help transform California into a state with some of the most comprehensive protections for LGBT people in the nation. Please join us at the Equality Awards. Your support will help us ensure that we will meet the challenges that lie ahead until we secure full equality for all.

Sidebar

Join us for the Palm Springs Equality Awards.

Presented by AT&T, join us at the Riviera Resort & Spa to honor Kamala Harris, San Francisco District Attorney, and the Williams Institute, a national think tank at UCLA Law focused on advancing sexual orientation law and public policy.

The evening’s celebration will include a silent auction benefiting the organization, live entertainment provided by three-time Grammy nominee Taylor Dayne, a gourmet three-course meal, and a complimentary open bar sponsored by Blue Angel Ultra Premium Vodka. The Mistress of Ceremonies is Downtown Julie Brown. The after party will feature DJ Matt Cornwall

When: Saturday, Oct. 23. at 5:30 p.m.

Where: Riviera Resort & Spa, 1600 North Indian Canyon Drive

To purchase tickets, contact Traci Hoffberg at tracih@blueroomevents.com or (310) 491-1401 or visit www.eqca.org