2009 proved tumultuous, hopeful for LGBT Californians
It has certainly been a tumultuous year for LGBT Californians.
2009 began with activists reeling from Proposition 8’s passage a couple of months earlier and an imploding state economy, which left legislators and the governor snarling at each other over cuts to AIDS services and other critical social programs.
The Gordian knot of matrimony
California’s progressive reputation took one on the chin in May when the state Supreme Court ruled the voters were well within their rights when they voted to strike down marriage for same-sex couples at the ballot box. The 6-1 ruling came virtually one year after the same court had ruled gay and lesbian marriages were a fundamental right under the state’s Constitution--a Constitution the court ruled the voter could re-write with a simple majority.
While activists immediately vowed to overturn Prop 8, they were split on the timing, with some calling to put the issue on the ballot in 2010, but others, including many LGBT advocacy organizations, maintained marriage for gays and lesbians stood a better chance in the 2012 presidential election.
Not wanting for either 2010 or 2012, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier of Berkeley and Jeffrey Zarrillo and Paul Katami of Burbank filed a federal challenge to Prop 8. Their suit, which will be heard by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, next month, is expected to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Former Republican U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olsen and Democrat David Boise, who famously battled in Gore v. Bush, are representing the couples.
One more and she can use them for earrings
San Francisco Pride Parade organizers had decided to do away with their Pink Brick awards, given annually to the person they feel has run most afoul of the LGBT community. But the pinkpaver was pulled out one more time for Miss California USA Carrie Prejean, who used the pageant to bash marriage for gays and lesbians. Prejean, whom it was later revealed had revealed all for photographers (we know: she was young, she needed the money, yadda yadda yadda) and a sex tape, immediately became the toast of conservative talk show hosts.
Memories of Milk
Three decades after Harvey Milk’s assassination, the late San Francisco City Supervisor was finally given the recognition many advocates had long sought when he was inducted into the California Hall of Fame, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the state formally declared May 22 as Harvey Milk Day. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had vetoed the legislature’s previous efforts to establish the holiday. The governor cited increased mainstream awareness of Milk Gus VanSant’s film created a year earlier and the presidential honor as factors that sparked his change of heart.
In and out of office
A longstanding homophobic reputation was no political barrier for ex-Republican state Sen. Chuck Poochigian, who was named to the state’s Fifth District Court of Appeal in September in spite of voting against every bit of LGBT legislation ever to cross his desk. A couple of Congressional campaigns by gay politicians fell short: Army veteran Anthony Woods was a distant fourth behind Lt. John Garamendi in his effort to succeed former Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, and Solana Beach City Councilman Dave Roberts suspended his own Congressional seat earlier this month after he and his husband, Wally Oliver, adopted two children -- the siblings of of a son the couple were already adopting. But Schwarzenegger, who had nominated Poochigian for the judicial seat, also appointed an openly gay man to a court seat for the first time. He tabbed Ronal Albers for the San Francisco County Superior Court.
The year began with Oakland, which the U.S. census reports has the highest concentration of lesbian couples in the country, inaugurating Rebecca Kaplan as its first openly lesbian City Councilmember. 2009 ended with Assemblymember John Pérez’s election as the Speaker of the State Assembly -- making him the first out politician ever to head the legislative body.
Pérez will not be the first high-ranking gay Latino in the state’s political leadership. At his retirement dinner in April, former state Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres outed himself, thanking his partner, Gonzalo Escudero, for a lifetime of support.