Karen Ocamb and Peter Delvecchio
Longtime LGBT and AIDS political strategist and icon Diane Abbitt, the first female co-chair of MECLA (the nation’s first gay political action committee in the 1970s) and California Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, the nation’s highest ranking openly gay state official, were honored by Equality California at their annual gala at the Ritz-Carlton hotel downtown on Aug. 14. EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors said the lobbying group changed venues from the Century Plaza Hotel because that hotel is part of the Hyatt chain under boycott by the Unite Here! union.
Abbitt delivered a funny and warm recollection of how she learned to defend herself as a lesbian mother at a time when it was extremely difficult to be out and how that experience deepened her commitment to fight for LGBT equality. Kors talked about the importance of electing LGBT candidates and allies this November and a slew of elected officials turned out for the event, including L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris who is competing with L.A. DA Steve Cooley to be California’s next Attorney General. Harris says she would not fight to uphold Prop. 8; Cooley says he would. Also there was Vicki Kolakowski, a candidate for Alameda County Superior Court Judge, who could become the state’s first transgender judge.
Perez delivered a powerful keynote address reminding the audience of the critical political importance of building coalitions, especially with the Latino and the labor movements. He reminded people that it was Harvey Milk’s alliance with labor unions over the Coors boycott that helped win Milk’s seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
“We have to recognize that effectively fighting for our rights is not simply a matter of holding press conferences or sponsoring legislation, or even precinct walking and phone banking; although those are important. It’s a matter of connecting to people on an emotional, personal and visceral level. This is something the labor community understands clearly,” Perez said. “We still see the results of that early partnership [between Milk and labor] today. In a majority of states in this country, most of us in the room could be fired for simply being gay, lesbian or bisexual. And in almost every state, a transgender person could be fired for being transgender. There is nothing in the laws of those states protecting LGBT people. But in every one of those states a union contract guarantees that protection. Wherever you find a union contract, you find a de facto ENDA. That is a living, breathing example of the need for us to rededicate ourselves to those early lessons of coalition building.”