I came to California from Oklahoma 25 years ago for the same reason a lot of us came: to find acceptance.
I rented a room in a bungalow in West Hollywood. When the lady who shared the house left, I took over and needed to find a roommate. At 29, I hadn't known anyone in Oklahoma that had HIV or AIDS. At the Hollywood restaurant where I worked, there was a guy named Bill who had HIV, and he needed a place to stay.
He became my new roommate, and unbeknownst to me, I had just become the caretaker for a dying man. Bill had little contact with his family, so I learned quickly how to care for someone dying from AIDS.
Then it started to steamroll for me. Friends from back home came down with HIV: David D., John, David W. and my brother. Finally, the friends I had begun to make in WeHo: Ron, Wayne Karr.
The plague was mine. I owned it now.
For those of us who lived through this, my story is far from unique. I stifled my grief by marching, yelling and raging at then-Governor Pete Wilson when he vetoed Assembly Bill 101. We protested a lot. We tried to get people to listen, to give a voice to our falling friends.
At the same time, I went to Los Angeles City College, then Cal State LA. During that time, I did publicity for Rick Zaldivar's the Wall-Las Memorias Latino AIDS awareness project and served on the board. I went on to do more nonprofit public-relations work after graduation, including stints at the AIDS Service Center in Pasadena and the Braille Institute.
Like many others, my only response was to devote myself to the community. We gave, we volunteered and we served.
I first came to Huntington Beach 10 years ago with my then-partner. We opened the "California Greetings" store downtown, and we were warmly embraced by our customers and people from all over the city.
I am so grateful for the friendly people in Huntington Beach and their acceptance of my partner and me, unconditionally and without judgment. I knew I had found a new home.
People may think it odd there is an openly gay elected city councilman in Huntington Beach, but the groundwork was laid long ago.
In response to several hate crimes, council members Shirley Detloff and Ralph Bauer created a Human Relations Task Force in Huntington Beach—the only city in the county that has one. In 1996 and again in 2006, the City Council unanimously passed a "Declaration of Policy About Human Dignity" that is posted in the council chambers:
"[E]veryone should be treated with courtesy and respect, regardless of their racial background, their nation of origin, the religion they practice, their sexual orientation, gender or disability status. It is the right of all citizens to pursue their daily lives with the knowledge that they will not be physically harmed or verbally abused."
I have always taken great comfort in it being there, and I believe it really means something. I have a great deal of respect for Detloff and Bauer for putting it into place. I hope I can do something that is as meaningful and lasts as long.
Then, despite the heartbreak of Proposition 8 in 2008, something magical happened in Orange County.
The Orange County Equality Coalition was formed and right away started making a difference. In 2009, it began anew the yearly tradition of an Orange County gay-pride festival and really turned up the visibility of LGBT people in the county.
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Of course, it has been helped along by OC LGBT leaders such as Jeff LeTourneau; allies including the Reverend Sara Halvorsen of Fairview Community Church, the Church of the Foothills in Santa Ana, Dr. Kevin O'Grady of the Center OC; and countless others.
That's why I feel I arrived here at just the right time to see LGBT acceptance flourish.
In response to this great momentum, I have a challenge: Let's get to work so that I am not the only openly gay elected official in Orange County! We need more LGBT elected leaders, planning commissioners and school-board members so that we are adequately represented.
After all, we're really no different from other families in Orange County. Like everyone else, LGBT families want good schools, safe and well-maintained streets, clean water and air, and abundant open spaces where we can take in the beauty that is all around us.