Equality California www.eqca.org raised a few eyebrows when the statewide LGBT civil rights organization endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in March. Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur felt there was no need to wait since the former Sec. of State “has the best record of accomplishment on LGBT issues of any potential candidate.” Now, EQCA is virtually declaring 2016 as the Year of the Woman with its list of honorees for the Equality Awards this Saturday, Sept. 18, capped off by their nationally renowned keynote speaker—California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris
EQCA endorsed Harris last May in her race against Rep. Loretta Sanchez for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer. The race is not only between two Democrats from the North and South regions of the state, but also two women of color: Sanchez is a Latina while Harris is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica.
“Harris has an outstanding, two-decade-long record of using each office in which she has served to advance LGBT equality in significant ways,” Zbur said. “Her longstanding commitment to and focus on LGBT civil rights is crystal clear.”
Considered a rising Democratic star, Harris’ name came up twice in the national conversation when President Obama had to nominate someone to fill the seats of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and retiring U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Many in the LGBT community were delighted with the prospect—Harris has been a stalwart LGBT champion. As San Francisco District Attorney, she created an LGBT hate crimes unit, supported court bans on the junk science of “gay conversion therapy” and disavowed use of the so-called “panic defense” in LGBT criminal trials. And as the city and county’s chief prosecutor, she supported renegade pro-gay Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004 when he ordered clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples—and even showed up at City Hall to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
As attorney general and longtime EQCA supporter, she agreed with predecessor Jerry Brown and refused to defend Proposition 8 in federal court, correctly deeming the 2008 voter-passed, anti-gay initiative was unconstitutional. She also went to court and successfully got a waiver from her duty to give the “Sodomite Suppression Act”—an initiative to legalize the killing of gay men—a title and ballot summary so the measure’s sponsor could collect signatures for 2016 ballot.
With her deep civil right background, Harris’ keynote at the gala will no doubt be a stem-winder on the current state of American politics.
Equality California’s honorees are also outstanding women in their own fields. Amanda Nunes is an Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter; Laura Brill and Ellen Evans, together for 29 years, are prominent Los Angeles-based advocates—Brill worked on Lawrence v. Texas and the victory for GSAs, Colín v. Orange Unified School District; and Laphonza Butler is president of SEIU Local 2015 and of SEIU’s California State Council.
“This year’s honorees have shattered stereotypes and fought to make our state and our country a better and more just place for LGBT people and the communities that we are part of,” Zbur said in a statement. “In sports, in the places we work and in the city we call home, they have served as role models, advocates and champions for LGBT people and we are better off because of them.”
Former “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” star Jai Rodriguez and openly transgender actress, writer and filmmaker Rain Valdez will host this year’s Los Angeles Equality Awards, which will take place on Saturday, September 17 at the J.W. Marriott at L.A. Live, located at 900 W. Olympic Blvd. in Los Angeles. Individual tickets are $350 and up.For more information about the Equality Awards, visit www.eqcaawards.com. For tickets or sponsorship information, contact Scott Gizicki at email@example.com or by calling 323-848-9801.
Here’s more information on the honorees from Equality California:
Earlier this year, Amanda Nunes became the first openly LGBT person to win the Ultimate Fighting Championship Bantamweight title. The 28-year-old native of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil never hid the fact she was a lesbian throughout her meteoric rise to the top. That openness and honesty continues today – her prolific social media posts highlight her relationship with her partner, fellow fighter Nina Ansaroff, and the two have been featured together in the media both in the United States and Brazil. Nunes has defied stereotypes and served as a role model for LGBT youth simply by being herself.
Over the course of their 29 years together, Laura Brill and Ellen Evans have been a constant force in the battle for LGBT civil rights, moving from campus activism to serving on boards of directors and fundraising for organizations and political campaigns. Brill is a top litigator and appellate attorney in Los Angeles and has provided pro bono work in some of the most important LGBT legal victories of the past 20 years, including Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning remaining U.S. sodomy laws; a landmark case clearing the way for LGBT student groups to be welcomed into thousands of high schools across the nation; and numerous other state and federal marriage equality cases across the country. Evans served on the board of Equality California Institute during a pivotal period, helping lead the development of a strategy that would ensure the organization’s future success. Evans is an out volunteer organizer in their children’s schools, and serves the LGBT community as an ambassador in many other communities.
Laphonza Butler is president of SEIU Local 2015 and of SEIU’s California State Council, representing some 180,000 in-home caregivers and nursing home workers across California, and is one of the most prominent out lesbians in American labor. Butler believes that the purpose of the labor movement is to win social and economic justice for all, and that the wellbeing of LGBT people is a key measure of the movement’s success. When one in five LGBT adults lives in poverty and transgender people are four times more likely than the general public to have incomes under $10,000 per year, her leadership of the movement for a $15 an hour living wage in California has lifted thousands of LGBT and other people out of poverty. In addition, Butler serves as an example of an out and proud lesbian of color to thousands of LGBT young people.