After what many perceived as a long period of silence, on Feb. 23, Equality California announced a new interim executive director.
“We’ve selected Laurie Hasencamp, a tireless advocate for LGBT equality and a long-time backer of Equality California with interim executive director experience, to serve as EQCA’s Interim Executive Director,” wrote Board President Clarissa Filgioun and EQCA Institute President Cary Davidson.
Hasencamp’s four-to-six-month appointment was greeted with widespread praise, including from EQCA critics such as Love Honor Cherish Board President Thomas Watson. “Laurie Hasencamp is not only a smart, talented and dedicated leader but also an extraordinary human being,” Watson told Frontiers. “I am hopeful that her interim leadership at EQCA will lead to a rebirth of the organization and a rededication to achieving equality. Unfortunately, though, given the failures of EQCA’s board leadership, I fear that Laurie has an uphill battle ahead of her.”
In a 45-minute interview with Frontiers on March 1, the day after she started, Hasencamp seemed more than willing to trudge up that hill. “I have been doing volunteer fundraising work in the LGBT community here in L.A. for almost 10 years, so I’m very familiar with Equality California, and for many years my husband and I have been donors as well. So I know how important Equality California is, and I know some of its history,” she said. “I have some experience with coming out of retirement to help to manage day-to-day operations of an organization that needs that on an interim basis so the program staff, the board and the senior leaders can focus on doing their work and on looking toward the future. I’m hopeful that I can help in that regard.”
Hasencamp said she is trying to wrap her arms around the organization and is still learning about programs such as the Breakthrough Conversations, asking questions like, ‘What is the goal?’ and ‘What has been gleaned so far?’ She also said that she is aware of the possibility of an initiative campaign to repeal the California FAIR Education Act, but the organization is in a “hurry up and wait” mode until there is evidence of activity.
EQCA Communications Director Rebekah Orr, who was also on the call, told Frontiers there is no sign anywhere—no signature-gatherers or even church networking—to indicate the repeal movement has strength or financial backing. “We’re preparing to take action, but we’re hoping no action is needed,” she said.
Hasencamp, who practiced bankruptcy law with Latham & Watkins and Irell & Manella before retiring in 2002, serves on the boards of Lambda Legal, the Williams Institute, The Serra Project and Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, among others. But she is not just an abstract checkbook activist. She and her husband gave more than $10,000 through EQCA to the ‘No on Prop. 8’ campaign and they raised much more, including an additional $7,500 she raised by prompting a competition at Latham & Watkins. But Hasencamp also did phone-banking and stood outside the polling station with her sign and pitch not to vote for Prop. 8 on Election Day.
Hasencamp said it was not her role to provide a vision for EQCA but to “help quide” the board to find its own vision and how to achieve it.
Ironically, Hasencamp’s personal experience with LGBT people could serve as a story befitting a FAIR Education Act campaign. She was in ninth grade in 1972 when an astute Glendale history teacher instructed his students to learn and form opinions about the political issues of that election year. “One of the issues at that time was the repeal of the sodomy laws, and he wanted us to understand that law was still on the books,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘How can this be a law? How would it be enforced?’” She realized enforcement meant the police could enter someone’s bedroom “and figure out what was going on.” She also learned that the law may have appeared neutral but it was really aimed at gay people. That was “an awakening” that “it’s just not right.”
During high school, college and law school, she watched her closeted friends struggle with coming out. “I’ve seen the problems, the challenges they faced, the emotional energy and the emotional toll it takes on them, so it’s very personal to me,” she said, adding that she’s lost a number of close friends to AIDS.
When she retired, Hasencamp asked her Lathan & Watkins pal Rick Zbur where she should volunteer to help the LGBT community. He suggested Lambda Legal. “I saw the impact of the inequality and I saw just how wrong it was,” she said. “People have to do something about it, including straight people. If we just leave the impacted groups to fight for themselves, that’s too hard of a struggle. It’s not fair. ... [If] you know how to help, in my opinion, it’s incumbent on you to help. Because there’s so much work to be done, and there’s so much need, I just can’t stand by. I play golf, but I don’t play golf very often because I can’t imagine that five hours of my time playing golf is better spent than five hours of my time trying to help one of these nonprofits that I’m involved in.”
Hasencamp said people know that EQCA is important and are “rooting” for the organization to succeed—“so that’s pretty heartening,” as is, by all accounts, her selection as Interim EQCA Executive Director.