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Update on the Referendum Attempt to Repeal the School Success and Opportunity Act

November 23, 2013 By Jesse Melgar


The following is an update from Equality California Executive Director John O’Connor regarding the status of the referendum attempt:

Dear friends,

With your help, Equality California and our coalition partners tracked the activity of anti-LGBT groups over the past few months as they gathered signatures to repeal the School Success and Opportunity Act. We received calls and emails confirming what we already knew — our opponents were employing shameless and desperate scare tactics to collect, and ultimately submit signatures for a referendum.

Now, Equality California and our partners have been hard at work, carefully monitoring the results of their attempt to repeal this historic law that ensures all students, including transgender students, have the opportunity to fully participate and succeed in school.

Status of the Referendum Attempt:

As of Friday evening, the Secretary of State is reporting that they’ve received a total of 613,120 signatures from a majority of California’s counties. While there are still three small counties that have yet to submit signatures, the current total surpasses the threshold of 504,760 signatures needed to initiate the signature verification process.

That’s the phase we’re in now, but this does not mean the referendum has qualified.

Now, the Secretary of State’s Office has notified county elections officials that they will have to randomly sample signatures for validation, to ensure petitions were signed by registered voters.

The deadline to complete the random sample validation is January 8, 2014.

If the result of the random sample indicates that the number of valid signatures represents between 95% and 110% of 504,760, the Secretary of State would then direct the county elections officials to verify every signature on the petition. In this scenario, the verification process could go into mid-March of 2014. This process is referred to as a full check of signatures.

Moreover, at this stage, if the total number of valid signatures is less than 95% of the number of signatures required to qualify the referendum, the referendum will fail to qualify for the ballot.

If the number of valid signatures is greater than 110% of the required number of signatures, the initiative measure will qualify.

Currently, opponents are averaging 75.46% in the random sample, which is far below the average ultimately needed to qualify.

Because the purpose of the School Success and Opportunity Act is really to spell out the existing federal and state law so that school administrators, teachers, parents and students fully understand their responsibilities and rights, even if this referendum attempt were to qualify and pass — which looks more and more unlikely — those fundamental responsibilities and rights would not change.

Rest assured that regardless of the outcome of this referendum attempt, EQCA is committed to doing whatever it takes to defend this bill and protect the opportunities it creates for all students, including transgender students. 

We will continue to provide updates as they are made available. In the meantime, we strongly urge you to learn more about the School Success and Opportunity Act by visiting our coalition website:

Very truly Yours,

John O’Connor

Executive Director



They’ve submitted signatures

November 11, 2013 By Jesse Melgar



Dear friends,

Yesterday, our opponents submitted signatures in an attempt to overturn the School Success and Opportunity Act at the ballot box. The same people who spearheaded Proposition 8 – Frank Schubert and the National Organization of Marriage – are now going after the most vulnerable members of the LGBT community – our youth.

These fringe anti-LGBT groups have used every dirty trick in the book to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures. By distorting the truth about non-discrimination protections, they were able to scare voters into signing their petitions.

Join us by contributing to protect the School Success and Opportunity Act now!

The Secretary of State will verify the raw count of all signatures they submitted by Thursday, November 21st which our opponents have stated is close to 620,000. The Secretary of State has up to 38 business days to verify the signatures submitted by our opponents before she determines whether or not a referendum on the School Success and Opportunity Act will qualify for the November 2014 ballot.

We know that our opponents lie and that’s why we are waiting on the Secretary of State’s confirmation about the actual number of valid signatures submitted. Nonetheless, this is a very serious attack on our youth and we will do everything we can to protect the law.

In the meantime, Equality California, along with the co-sponsoring organizations of the law, will be monitoring the situation closely and preparing for all scenarios.

We refuse to let these attacks on our youth go unanswered. That’s why we need to continue to set record the straight about the law and combat these blatant lies. Over the past few months, you’ve helped us engage in tens of thousands of conversations about the law – on the phones and on the streets. But, it’s even more crucial now that we keep this up.

The campaign to overturn this historic law protecting our youth has been primarily fueled by wealthy out-of-state funders. A hedge fund manager from New Jersey, who gave over $1 million to Proposition 8, recently wrote checks totaling $200,000 toward this new attack on our rights. Our movement doesn’t have massive funding, but we have you – and we need your help in two specific ways – 1. fund our grassroots campaign to defend this law and 2. sign up to be on call as a volunteer.

Stand up to the right-wing money machine and donate $100 to help us spread the truth.

Click here to sign up to be a volunteer on call.

Regardless of whether they qualify for the ballot, our opponents will continue to attack our community – at the ballot box, in the legislature and in the courts of law. Equality California, along with our allies, remains vigilant and will continue to update you with any new developments.


John O’Connor

Executive Director


New life for ENDA in Congress

October 28, 2013 By Josh Steichmann

Cindy McCain signed postcard in support of ENDA

Passing a national Employment Non-Discrimination Act to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees has been a goal of LGBT advocacy for a generation, introduced in every Congressional session since 1994, with similar legislation dating back to 1974.

ENDA may be getting new life, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid readying ENDA for a Senate floor vote, and a growing effort to bring Republican support to the bill.

Even Cindy McCain is signing on, though her husband has yet to vote in favor.

But if the Senate can pass ENDA, the real question will be the GOP-led House. After an “autopsy” came out last year analyzing the dismal failure of the Republican party to attract young voters, one of the prescriptions was moving toward more support for LGBT equality, and an employment bill could be more palatable than something like marriage.

A staggering 80 percent of voters already believe that ENDA is law, and 56 percent of self-described Republicans favor passing ENDA, according to a new poll (PDF) from the Human Rights Campaign. However, Republicans in the House are even more conservative than Republican voters as a whole, so it’s hard to predict whether ENDA will gain sufficient traction to pass.

National Latino AIDS Awareness Day

October 15, 2013 By Jesse Melgar


Equality California is proud to observe National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) today. Established in 2003, NLAAD is dedicated to raising awareness about the impact HIV/AIDS has on the Latino community. The 2013 theme is “Commit to Speak”/“Comprométete a Hablar”. Every October 15th, the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month, partners across the United States raise their collective voice to promote HIV/AIDS education, prevention, testing, treatment, and overall awareness for Latino communities.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the HIV infection rate among Latinos in 2009 was nearly three times as high as that of caucasians. As the Latino community grows exponentially, it is essential to address this epidemic head on if we hope to create an AIDS-free generation.

Visit the National Latino AIDS Awareness Day website to learn more (NLAAD). To find an HIV/AIDS testing site in California, click here.



Harvey Milk to be Honored on U.S. Postage Stamp

October 10, 2013 By Jesse Melgar


The United States Post Office confirmed today that Harvey Milk will be the first proudly out elected official to grace a postal stamp, joining a myriad of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender icons already recognized on postage, including Tennessee Williams, Keith Haring and Willa Cather.

The stamp will reportedly feature Milk’s slogan, “Hope will never be silent.”

The decision came after a multi-year push from the LGBT community to honor Milk with a stamp.

In 2009, Equality California sponsored SB 572 which was authored by Senator Mark Leno and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown declaring May 22 Harvey Milk Day in California.

This is a tremendous honor who’s spirit is alive and well. And who says philately will get you nowhere?


HISTORIC: Gov. Brown Signs TRUST Act

October 7, 2013 By Jesse Melgar


“Make no mistake, Immigration Reform is an LGBT issue!”

That was one of the core messages highlighted by Equality California Executive Director John O’Connor at the Los Angeles Equality Awards on October 5 – the day Governor Jerry Brown signed the historic TRUST Act.

With federal efforts at immigration reform stalled, California is taking proactive steps to move it forward, at least in the Golden State. Gov. Brown’s signature will prohibit law enforcement officials from detaining an individual on the basis of a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from custody, unless specified conditions are met.

“While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead. I’m not waiting,” said Gov. Brown in a statement.

What’s the connection to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians? We know that LGBT people are more likely to be accosted, harassed and arrested by police for minor charges (including one case last year for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk), but that LGBT people are also more likely to be victims of crimes, including assault and domestic violence. In a recent survey of 220 transgender Latinas by the Williams Institute, 60 percent believed they had been stopped by law enforcement in the last year without breaking any law.

By ensuring that undocumented LGBT people won’t necessarily face deportation from routine, low-level law enforcement interaction, that means that LGBT people who are undocumented are more likely to report serious crimes, cooperate with law enforcement investigations and testify in court cases. It’s a victory for public safety and equity among a traditionally marginalized segment of California’s population.

The law, authored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, is similar to one vetoed by Gov. Brown last year, but this version makes more explicit which crimes qualify as violent or serious, making the detainee ineligible for release. Some law enforcement officials, like Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, opposed the bill last year but supported it after Ammiano made changes.

The bill is a success for the increasingly collaborative coalition work between advocates of LGBT equality, immigrant rights and economic justice; organizations signing a letter of support included EQCA, Lambda Legal, the Transgender Law Center, Gender Justice LA, Immigration Equality, National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Out 4 Immigration, and the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. Read the rest of this entry »


Transgender Student Activist Ashton Lee Takes Aim At Fringe Anti-LGBT Group For Illegal Fundraising

October 2, 2013 By Josh Steichmann
Cathrine and Ashton Lee

Cathrine and Ashton Lee

Remember Ashton Lee, the 16-year-old boy from Manteca who delivered 5,700 signatures to Governor Brown asking that he sign the School Success and Opportunity Act, which clarifies protections for transgender students?

Monday, Ashton and his mother, Catherine Lee, filed a complaint with the California Attorney General’s office, asking for an investigation into the Capitol Resource Institute, a fringe anti-LGBT group dedicated to undermining protections for LGBT people. They were behind Prop. 8, as well as the failed attempts to remove LGBT history from public schools. Now they’re back, attempting to repeal the School Success and Opportunity Act. Specifically, they’re fundraising for a repeal effort.

But the IRS yanked CRI’s tax-exempt status back in February because the CRI hadn’t filed any paperwork in over three years. Oops.

In a press release, Ashton said: “It troubles us that this group, which is sending out emails asking for money to overturn a law, the School Success and Opportunity Act, that just makes sure students like me can participate in school, is doing so illegally. Our lives are directly harmed on a daily basis by the work they are doing to attack our rights and opportunities.”

Upon hearing about Ashton’s empowering advocacy, EQCA executive director John O’Connor said: “After years of failing to defeat other LGBT nondiscrimination protections, it is sad that these fringe groups are using their resources — illegally — to target vulnerable students. It is an inspiration to see that Ashton is not so vulnerable and has taken great initiative to organize and take action with his heroically supportive mother.”

And the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, who were first approached by the Lees: “We are so proud to see Ashton, a young person who legally and honestly fought for the opportunity to succeed in school, stand up to these fringe groups who have lied to the public in their attempt to bully him and transgender students across the state,” said Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network.


Mayor who Signed LGBT Pride Month Proclamation Removed From Office in Porterville

September 19, 2013 By Jesse Melgar

After a 3-2 city council vote, Virginia Gurrola and Pete McCracken, former Porterville mayor and vice-mayor respectively, were removed from office and replaced by other members of the council. Former councilmember Cameron J. Hamilton now serves as mayor.

The three-member majority of Hamilton, Brian Ward and Greg Shelton are the same three-member majority who voted in July to rescind Gurrola’s proclamation of June as LGBT Pride Month in Porterville.

Porterville was the only city in California to issue an official resolution of support for Prop. 8 in 2008. Cameron Hamilton and Brian Ward were on the council then and voted in support of that resolution.

The three council members who voted to remove Gurrola and McCracken have not stated why they removed the mayor and vice-mayor, though Hamilton denies it had anything to do with LGBT issues. “If the LGBT community thinks that, then that’s just what they’re going to have to think,” Hamilton told ABC Action News.

Mayor Gurrola believes that the underlining issue was the LGBT proclamation.

“To remove somebody from a position is in effect saying you aren’t doing the job we want you to do…they need to clearly say why they’re removing you,” said Gurrola.

EQCA thanks Gurrola for standing up in support of the city’s LGBT community and acknowledging their vast contributions. We are closely monitoring the situation.


LGBT Data Collection Bill Advances to Governor

September 17, 2013 By Jesse Melgar

ab1208-01We know from various studies that health disparities impacting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are real, but we cannot work to address those health disparities effectively until we begin collecting data about who we are and what unique health challenges we face. Last week, the California legislature took an important step to help correct this shortfall by advancing Assembly Bill 1208, an LGBT data collection bill authored by Assemblymember Dr. Richard Pan and sponsored by Equality California.

The bill, which earned bipartisan support, will result in valuable public health data by adding voluntary questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to the application Californian’s complete for insurance affordability programs. There is currently no way to gather demographic information about LGBT Californians on these forms.

“As a physician, health services researcher, and advocate for LGBT rights, I have striven to eliminate health disparities and expand access to health care,” said Dr. Pan. “I urge the Governor to sign AB1208 so California will have the data needed to inform efforts to improve access and assure equality in health care for the LGBT community.”

AB 1208 will help California lead the way in answering the national call for more information on disparities in access to health care for the LGBT community.  By including optional questions on the standardized application Californians complete for insurance affordability programs regarding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, new data will be collected that can help guide efforts to increase health care equality in California and nationally. This bill will also help reduce health disparities by allowing better tracking of populations who are not enrolling in subsidized and low-cost programs and targeting outreach and enrollment to them. If signed by the Governor, the bill will go into effect on January 1, 2015.

On Wednesday, September 18, health advocates including EQCA will hold a press conference at the State Capitol asking Governor Jerry Brown to sign this critical piece of legislation.


Youth Equality Act to Advance when Legislative Session Reconvenes

September 16, 2013 By Jesse Melgar

1175439_10153075373630394_181166397_nThe Youth Equality Act, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, which would end a special sales and corporate tax exemption for youth groups that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or religious affiliation, will advance when the legislative session reconvenes in January.

“Let me be very clear, SB 323 is alive and well,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara. “As this is the first year to a two-year legislative session, we will be taking the next few months to work closely with all parties involved to address and refine this legislation. As session reconvenes in January, the passage of this bill will be my number one priority.”

Equality California’s executive director John O’Connor underscored the importance of  the bill and the organization’s commitment to ensuring its advancement:

“The Youth Equality Act represents a critical step in the journey toward full equality, especially ending exclusion for LGBT youth and adults in youth organizations. This bill has wide support and in June, made history by advancing out of the Senate by a historic two-thirds vote. However, there is still work to be done for smooth and effective implementation and that is why EQCA remains committed to working with Senator Lara to ensure this bill’s passage next year.”

In the last few weeks, conversations with youth organizations that have inclusive policies have prompted further analysis of the bill to ensure effective implementation.  While most youth organizations, including the Girl Scouts, 4-H, YMCA, YWCA, Young Explorers, Junior Achievers, Little League, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, already have explicit anti-discrimination policies, groups like Scouts for Equality are working with organizations that haven’t articulated a full anti-discrimination policy with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity. Scouts for Equality is collaborating with local scouting leaders to draft a proposed policy that would allow individual units to declare themselves open and affirming without running afoul of current National Scout policy.

“The Youth Equality Act has ignited necessary discussion and action around youth organizations and their anti-discrimination policies,” said Eric Andresen, who is working closely with Scouts for Equality. “The next few months will provide time to explore and draft model policies that organizations can implement once SB323 advances.”

Current California law prohibits discrimination based on a long list of protected classes, including sexual orientation, gender and gender identity.

The bill passed both the Assembly Tax and Revenue Committee and the Assembly Judiciary Committee with votes of 6-3. In June, the Youth Equality Act received a two-thirds vote in the Senate — the first time an LGBT bill received a two-thirds vote in the state’s history.

The bill has passed through the Assembly policy committees and is currently on the Assembly Floor. Session reconvenes January 2014.

For more information, contact Scouts for Equality at: