With 900,000 members, Equality California is the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. Equality California brings the voices of LGBTQ+ people and allies to institutions of power in California and across the United States, striving to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people. We advance civil rights and social justice by inspiring, advocating, and mobilizing through an inclusive movement that works tirelessly on behalf of those we serve.
Click here for a copy of Equality California’s 2019 Annual Report.
In 2019, we celebrated the passage of our 150th piece of LGBTQ+ civil rights legislation in California, making Equality California the nation’s most effective LGBTQ+ advocacy and public education organization. We are working within California, at the federal level and directly with other states to achieve full, lived equality for all LGBTQ+ people.
Here are some of the issues we work on:
LGBTQ+ people face disproportionate rates of arrest, conviction, incarceration and recidivism compared to their non-LGBTQ+ peers. LGBTQ+ people are also more likely to suffer from physical and sexual assault once they enter the criminal justice system. These disparities are especially severe for transgender people and LGBTQ+ people who are Black, Indigenous, Latinx or Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI). Equality California is committed to working with a broad array of allies to address these disparities. Equality California has successfully worked to modernize California’s outdated, ineffective and discriminatory laws that criminalized people living with HIV and to reform California’s broken sex offender registry, which for decades treated LGBTQ+ people differently from their non-LGBTQ+ peers. Equality California has also worked in coalition with racial justice and civil rights organizations to pass legislation restoring voting rights to people on parole, reforming California’s law enforcement use-of-force policy, ban the use of chokeholds and better prevent racial discrimination in jury selection. Equality California also strongly backed Governor Newsom’s actions to end California’s unjust, outdated and racist death penalty system.
Every child in California — regardless of background, zip code, sexual orientation or gender identity — deserves to attend a safe and supportive school, where they have the opportunity to learn and succeed. Studies show that LGBTQ+ students are more likely to face bullying, harassment and discrimination in schools than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. These disparities can deny students the opportunity to learn and succeed and result in higher rates of school dropout, homelessness, depression, suicidal ideation and poverty. For two decades, Equality California has sponsored and passed groundbreaking state legislation to protect and support LGBTQ+ students in our schools. In 2016, Equality California and Equality California Institute launched our Safe and Supportive Schools Program to build on our legislative success and ensure every LGBTQ+ child in California has access to a welcoming and affirming learning environment.
In August 2020, Equality California Institute, in partnership with AmeriCorps, launched its newest peer-led mentorship and after-school program, supporting LGBTQ+ students to create positive school environments. Under Equality California’s leadership, 20 dedicated AmeriCorps members work directly with self-selected LGBTQ+ and allied students at Fresno Unified School District, providing a safe and supportive space for personal growth and professional development over the course of an academic year.
California is blessed with a diverse and robust community of millions of people of faith — including many LGBTQ and allied people. People of faith have an important role to play in the work to secure and protect full equality for LGBTQ people. Equality California is proud to work alongside faith leaders to create acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ people in communities of faith.
LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately impacted by gun violence, with LGBTQ+ homicides rising by 20 percent in the U.S. between 2014 and 2015. A 2019 study found that firearms were used in nearly 60 percent of bias-motivated homicides of LGBTQ+ people. Transgender women — especially black transgender women — face even higher rates of murder and violent crime. In the wake of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting, Equality California launched the “Safe and Equal” Campaign. The campaign is aimed at ending gun violence by advocating for tougher common sense gun safety laws at the federal and state level. Equality California has made adoption of laws to reduce gun violence and mass shootings one of its highest organizational priorities.
LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately impacted by gun violence and hate-motivated crimes in general. Transgender women face epidemic rates of murder and violent crime. According to a study from The Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino, there was a 4 percent increase in reported hate crimes in 2018. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) found that hate violence has risen sharply, with a 20-percent increase in reported LGBTQ+ homicides in the U.S. between 2014 and 2015. Of the homicides reported in 2018, 62 percent were LGBTQ+ people of color and 54 percent of all hate-violence related LGBTQ+ homicides were transgender women of color.
Equality California worked with then-Attorney General Kamala Harris to pass legislation eliminating the”Gay Panic” and “Transgender Panic” defenses that have been asserted by defendants who have argued that their violent behavior was a rational response to discovering that the victim was LGBTQ+.
Despite rising acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in California and across the United States, the LGBTQ+ community continues to face widespread disparities in health and wellbeing, due in part to lack of access to quality, affordable healthcare. LGBTQ+ people face higher rates of HIV and AIDS, substance use, smoking and tobacco use, depression and anxiety, suicide attempts, eating disorders, certain types of cancer and more. The LGBTQ+ community is also more likely than our non-LGBTQ+ peers to face economic instability and limited access to health services, as well as discrimination from healthcare providers. These disparities are even greater for transgender and gender-nonconforming people, LGBTQ+ people of color, LGBTQ+ immigrants and LGBTQ+ people who live in rural communities.
Equality California works to increase access to quality, affordable healthcare for LGBTQ+ people — and the diverse communities to which LGBTQ+ people belong — through education, mobilization and advocacy. Our work includes training healthcare providers to better care for their LGBTQ+ patients; educating policymakers about the disparities in health and wellbeing that LGBTQ+ people face and the need to expand and protect healthcare access; and collaborating with the California LGBT Health and Human Services Network to support local community leaders and organizations engaging in LGBTQ+ mental health advocacy at the county, state and federal levels.
Despite significant advances in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, HIV/AIDS is still claiming the lives of many in the LGBTQ+ community. The CDC has reported a 132% increase in new instances of HIV infections in gay and bisexual men aged 13-24, while funding for many HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs has been reduced. We can end the HIV epidemic, but only if we expand access to testing, treatment and prevention — and eliminate stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.
In Sacramento, Equality California has led efforts to modernize California’s laws that criminalized people living with HIV, prohibit insurance discrimination against people living with HIV and make California the first state in the nation to allow access to life-saving HIV prevention medications PrEP and PEP without a doctor’s prescription.
Equality California works closely with The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) and state equality organizations across the country to modernize outdated, ineffective and discriminatory HIV laws. Through ETAF’s HIV Is Not A Crime campaign, we are supporting our Nevada-based affiliate Silver State Equality and partners at Equality Virginia, AIDS Foundation Chicago, Equality Georgia, Equality Ohio, Garden State Equality and Nashville Cares to replicate our success modernizing California’s HIV criminal laws.
LGBTQ+ people are represented in every community in California and throughout the country, including in immigrant communities. Until our nation has a just and functional immigration system, we do not have full and lasting LGBTQ+ equality. Undocumented LGBTQ+ people and those seeking asylum face tremendous negative effects on their social well-being for being members of two marginalized groups. Improving the lives of LGBTQ+ undocumented Californians requires that we improve the lives of all undocumented Californians. Equality California Institute works to educate the LGBTQ+ community and the broader community of immigration activists on the compounded disparities that LGBTQ+ undocumented Californians face.
LGBTQ people have traditionally been underrepresented in appointed boards, commissions, and offices at the federal, state and local levels. These positions provide the opportunity to have an immediate and lasting impact on pressing policy issues and are a pathway to elected office, corporate advancement, or other leadership opportunities. Through our Equality California Institute-Comcast Fellowship, LGBTQ+ Leadership Academy, LGBTQ+ Leadership Summit and LGBTQ+ Appointments Project, we’re working to develop a pipeline of LGBTQ+ leadership and empower LGBTQ+ elected, appointed and community leaders.
Equality California, along with Our Family Coalition and a group of gay and lesbian couples, sued the State of California in 2004 after the California Supreme Court ordered San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Equality California’s case, which was consolidated with other cases into In re Marriage Cases, argued that the state law denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry violated the California Constitution. On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court agreed that same-sex couples are entitled to the same fundamental right to marry as opposite-sex couples under the privacy, due process and equal protection clauses of the California Constitution. In 2013, the United States Supreme Court guaranteed the right of all same-sex couples across the country to marry. Today, Equality California is working to ensure that same-sex couples and their families are afforded the full and equal protections that marriage provides.
We cannot achieve full, lived equality for all LGBTQ+ people until we dismantle systemic racism. We cannot achieve our mission of creating a world that is healthy, just and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people until we end police brutality; end the crisis of violence against transgender women of color; stop the cruel separation of immigrant families and deportation of undocumented immigrants; prevent hate crimes against Black, Latinx, AAPI, Muslim and Jewish communities; and finally put a stop to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Our struggles are not all the same, but we recognize that they are inextricably intertwined and are committed to advancing racial justice and ending systemic racism. Equality California has strongly supported legislation to repeal California’s ban of affirmative action programs, restore voting rights to people on parole, reform California’s law enforcement use-of-force policy, better prevent racial discrimination in jury selection and create California’s landmark task force to study and issue recommendations for reparations. Equality California also strongly backed Governor Newsom’s actions to end California’s unjust, outdated and racist death penalty system.
An estimated 2.4 million LGBTQ+ seniors live in the United States today — a figure expected to double by 2030, as the baby boomer generation ages. LGBTQ+ seniors face discrimination, harassment and rejection as they age and head into retirement, particularly from assisted living centers and nursing homes. With needs that differ greatly from their non-LGBTQ peers, this experience has left our LGBTQ seniors disproportionately vulnerable to marginalization, isolation, homelessness, poverty and premature institutionalization. Equality California is working to secure the civil right protections and budgetary resources to ensure that LGBTQ seniors in California can live safe, dignified lives. We sponsored and helped pass a first-in-the-nation Seniors Long Term Care Bill of Rights, which strengthens – strengthening protections for LGBTQ+ seniors living in long term care facilities against discrimination, and legislation on Recognizing the Needs of LGBTQ Older Adults, ensuring that LGBTQ older adults are recognized as a population in need of special attention.
For decades, Big Tobacco has targeted the LGBTQ+ community specifically, resulting in significantly higher rates of smoking and use of other tobacco products and the health problems associated with them. In the 1990s, Big Tobacco launched a campaign called Project SCUM (Sub-Culture Urban Marketing), targeting “alternative” populations. That’s what they think we are: scum. Nearly 24% of California’s LGBTQ+ population uses tobacco products, compared to just 17% of adults who don’t identify as LGBTQ+. Estimates of smoking rates among LGBTQ+ youth range from 38% to 59%, compared to 28% to 35% of youth generally. Equality California Institute supports OUT Against Big Tobacco Coalitions in Los Angeles County and the Central Valley working to expose Big Tobacco’s predatory practices and build community support for the institutional changes required to save our next generation.
Despite the growing visibility of transgender people in the media, transgender people continue to face disproportionate levels of discrimination and violence in many areas of life. Of the wider transgender community, transgender women of color particularly face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, interpersonal and institutional violence. For over a decade, Equality California has been working in coalition to secure non-discrimination protections for transgender people, focusing on education, employment, healthcare and housing. Today, we continue the critical work of ensuring full and lasting equality in all areas of life for transgender people. Equality California is proud to have co-founded Transform California, the nation’s most ambitious campaign to educate the public about transgender Californians and the challenges they face.