By Gustavo Arellano
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By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
For the past decade, Kevin O'Grady was one of the most prominent fighters against bigotry in Orange County. As regional director of the Orange County-Long Beach region for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), it was the task of the Brighton, England, native of Irish stock to smoke out the neo-Nazis, anti-gay fools and Mexican-bashers who make this county one of the nation's premier hater havens. It was a job he loved, a job O'Grady knew was important, a job he planned to stay at for a long time—and then a friend approached him during a Hannukah party.
The friend told O'Grady the executive director position was available at the Center OC, Orange County's oldest LGBTQ organization, and asked if he would be interested in applying. On a lark, O'Grady went for an interview—and promptly bombed. "I had the flu," he admits, adding he didn't know of all the great work the Center did.
But O'Grady did eventually get the job in March of last year, and he quickly caused waves in a region that has bashed homosexuals at every possible level for decades. A youth group associated with the Center, Youth Empowered to Act (YETA), protested the opening of a Chick-fil-A in Laguna Hills, an action that netted national attention. He established collaborations with health organizations, community groups and activists across the county, so much so that the Center's two-story Santa Ana office is maxed-out; O'Grady is looking to expand its operations to satellite campuses. And just last month, the Center provided support to LGBTQ Vietnamese who tried to march in the Tet Parade.
For an organization that long operated quietly, such upfront advocacy endeared O'Grady to activists who have wished the Center would take a more prominent role in OC gay life.
"One thing I learned from my time at the ADL is the importance of coalitions and standing for yourself," O'Grady says. "We can't support ourselves and expect others to help us if we can't help them. The more we stand up, the more empowered we become. So instead of just one community, we can stand up collectively to tell people, 'Back the fuck off.'"
He's continuing to work his magic. The Center's April 20 fund-raiser will have as an honored guest Minnesota Vikings punter (and OC native) Chris Kluwe, who is the group's Torchbearer Award recipient for his hilarious attacks on anti-gay idiots. O'Grady is using his ADL tools to ferret out anti-gay actions in all corners of OC life—for instance, there's an alarming number of gay seniors going back into the closet at senior homes so as to not face discrimination, and some people in South County have lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation.
He has been turning the magnifying glass on gays in OC, a widespread, fractious group. "We're as divided as any other racial or ethnic group," O'Grady admits. "We need to go after the phobias in our own community. I don't buy people who say we can't make a difference—we all can."
Further plans for the Center include offering more services across the county and engaging with high schools on anti-bullying campaigns. O'Grady can rattle off plans the way he once could name all the white-power groups in Orange County. "I love this job," he says, "and I can't wait to make the Center the true center of LGBTQ life in OC."
He pauses, then laughs. "But I do miss the Nazis. . . ."