Tuesday, June 23, 2009

California State's LGBT Pride Month Celebration. "Yesterday's Progress, Tomorrow's Promise."

The Assembly was running a little behind schedule this caused someone seated behind me to comment: “If I ran a meeting this way, people would have my head.” That comment about the inefficiency of democratic government brought to mind a quip from Winston Churchill “Democracy is the worst form of government, until it is compared with all others.”

The highly ornate nineteenth century Assembly chamber’s interior looked like a wedding cake executed in stone, plaster and wood. The beautiful crystal chandeliers with their gas-light globes reminded me of another time. I recalled Tsar Alexander II’s attempt to establish a parliamentary system in Russia. A parliamentary system was about to be introduced in Russia, this prompted anarchists to assassinate the Tsar. He had also freed the serfs over the objections of his nobles and banned the use of torture. How different Russia would be today if he had not been murdered. His son Alexander III became a rigid reactionary abandoned all movement towards democratic government and ruled with an iron fist. Taking Russia backwards and setting the stage for the eventual revolution.

Rabbi Denise Eger from Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood took her position behind the podium before the California State Assembly and delivered an invocation, which opened the legislative session. She called upon the Holy One in the language of Abraham and Moses asking for justice and healing for our State. Her words reminded us of how we had moved backwards as a State on November 4th of 2008.

The first item for a vote was a resolution by Assembly Member John Perez to designate June as LGBT Pride month for California. Assembly Member Tom Ammiano co-sponsored the resolution. Some Republicans predictably opposed it. Assembly Member Gains (R) voiced his opposition and went into a seemingly interminable speech.

In essence, his cardinal point was that this constituted “a waste” of the Assembly’s time when we face a budget crisis. Of course, an Assembly member could have made the same comment in 1959 if the Assembly was considering a resolution honoring African or Latino persons. The fact that most Republicans had simply decided to take the time “off” and not appear in Chamber did not offend Mr. Gains’ work ethic. Perhaps, they were all slaving away on other more important issues in their offices.

The Speaker of the Assembly refocused his rambling speech back to the item up for a vote, reminding Mr. Gains that the budget was being addressed. The vote was taken and less than six members voted against the resolution. Those members simply walked out of the chamber when their defeat was posted on the Assembly’s vote monitors. It was reminiscent of grammar school and the reaction of some kids who would storm off when they lost a game.

At this point the various honorees were escorted into the chamber and received their awards, these included:

Ivy Bottini, a graphic artist, actor, comedian, director and mother. She helped found the first chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Jose Sarria, A veteran of World War II who played an integral role in shaping the modern LGBT rights movements.

Helen Zia for shedding light on the many issues that challenge the Asian American and LGBT communities and for her long and continued involvement in Asian American and LGBT causes, and family violence prevention.

Retired Brigadier General Keith Kerr, CSMR was honored for his lifelong service to the US Army and the California State Military Reserve and for his commitment to fighting for equal rights for LGBT service members.

Miss Major for her work with the transgender community, for working to combat HIV/AIDS, and for mentoring many of today’s transgender leaders to stand tall and defend their human rights.

Bienestar Human Services for its pioneering efforts to provide crucial and lifesaving services to neglected populations, specifically the LGBT Latino/Latina community.

Megan Hogan was honored for her courageous leadership in the face of adversity and for her efforts to promote tolerance and mutual respect for all people. Megan just graduated from Winston High School in Del Mar California where she was the co-president of the student body, a teacher of American Sign Language and the President of the Diversity Club/Gay Straight Alliance.

Finally, myself, I thought about the people I had met in twenty-three years of service. The young Latina lesbian who cautiously asked me to help her “come out” to her mother and the young man with the look of terror in his eyes when he said to me “Father, I’m gay.” The gay priests and members of the hierarchy many of them live double lives. Clergy who in their own zealous self-loathing have pushed LGBT persons and their loved ones out of the Catholic Church. Current official pronouncements by the hierarchy that have made LGBT Catholics feel unwelcome, unloved, inferior human refuse that are “tolerated” at best and then only conditionally so.

As I read about Megan, I looked up and saw a courageous young woman with surgically implanted electronics which gave her some hearing. This young woman accompanied by her specially trained hearing dog possessed a courage which I have rarely witnessed. I had a flashback to my bishop. He sternly warned that gay students would be permitted to meet on Catholic HS campuses and organize support groups, if Prop 8 were defeated. I wonder what he would say to Megan? I wonder what she would say to him?

Here we all were in California's Capitol building on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots,that transforming day when LGBT people said ENOUGH! Our state legislature was the first in the U.S.A., which passed full marriage equality laws TWICE. Both times the Republican governor vetoed the bills saying that this is an issue, which should be decided by the Courts. Ironically, Republicans moan and wail about “activist judges.”

I am proud of our State legislature, of their vision, their commitment to justice and equality. I am proud of Justice Moreno and his dissenting opinion to the State Supreme Court's narrow and shortsighted ruling on Prop 8. I am heartened by our Governor’s comments in support of full marriage equality for all Californians. I am inspired by people like Megan, who despite all odds and opposition bravely fight for what is right. The struggle for justice continues. In October, we march on Washington, D.C.


Steven said...

What an opportunity to be part of a program where the Assembly recognized and honored such valued contributors to the GLBTQ community. And kudos to you for being made part of this esteemed class.

Marky's MADWORLD said...

Father Geoff, I am glad you were honored, as you should be for all your service, for your continued fight & for using your wisdom to expose the truth and enlighten us all. You continue to be my hero. I will be there in Washington as I have proudly joined the planning committee here in Fresno.

Bless You,

Mareczku said...

I agree with Mark, I am glad that you were honored. I hope that some of the bigwigs took note. I was very touched by some of your comments here.

Peace & Love - Mark from PA

Sebastian said...

You mean that the California Assembly honored you? They poked their finger in the eye of the bishops? That, more than anything tells me that the times are changing! Bravo! When will the bishops grasp the reality that all people are equal, and all are loved by God, and all are called by him to play the hand they are dealt in life?

As a priest how believes he has few alternatives, I admire you, who found a way to be true to yourself.