The State of LGBT OC By the Director of Youth Services at the Center OC

Riley Kern

When I arrived in OC from Los Angeles in 2000, the Pride Festival had been banned in Santa Ana, and other than some cocktail and dinner parties in the fine homes of Human Rights Council's dues-paying members, I was unaware of any grassroots organizing in the local LGBT community. Thankfully, my friends, longtime OC passion warriors Jeff LeTourneau and Dave Barton, disabused me early on of the notion that local LGBT activism was born from Proposition 8.

Admittedly, I was not searching it out. When I met my now-wife Karla in 2001, we spent most of our time creating our version of the Real Lesbian Jewish/Black Housewives of Orange County. When we decided to get married, we knew we'd have to start giving back, especially once we started seeing groups of fancy yellow-shirted Prop. 8 supporters taking over our street corners with their fancy yellow signs.

After Prop. 8 passed, it made sense to start organizing with the activists who had been showing up at phone banks and protests. So we formed the Orange County Equality Coalition (OCEC). We had meetings; guest speakers (including Dan Choi); conferences; and a rally for every day, eve or night of every Prop. 8 court decision that occurred over the next five years, with a few in between to keep up appearances. This post-Prop. 8 grassroots wave connected us across the state and the country and provided many of us with an education in community organizing. By the time the Supreme Court of the United States announced its decisions on DOMA and Prop. 8 in May, we could plan a rally in one night (with maybe a few calls, emails and the brow sweat of folks in the group trying to stop the county from extorting thousands of dollars from us to have our event on the steps of the old OC Courthouse).

By the most recent Prop. 8 rally, it was clear we had a diverse LGBT and allied community that was connected and full of pride. Given this progress—and that we had a diverse panel of rally speakers including so many faith leaders that Lou Sheldon would have plotzed—there were no transgender or people of color in our planning group. As we move forward, I hope that every aspect of our organizing is more representative of the entire community.

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Still, it's difficult to deny we have come a long way. Santa Ana is hosting Pride again, and it was the first city in the county to officially recognize Harvey Milk Day. At this year's celebration, Milk's protégé, founder of the AIDS Quilt and lifelong activist Cleve Jones spoke at Cal State Fullerton, the city that was once home to Proposition 6 evildoer John Briggs. To top this, the OC Board of Supervisors finally agreed to recognize Harvey Milk Day, with a declaration presented by the supervisor holding the same seat Briggs held in 1978.

Finally, I can tell you where you will find the most brilliant example of the future of OC LGBT activism. There is a youth movement happening here, a combined force of LGBT, undocumented and allied youth whose relentless insistence for accountability, inclusion and recognition of our shared struggle should be the ethical framework for all of our activism. Our Rainbow Youth groups have quadrupled in the past two years, with new groups for youth ages 11 to 14, as well as for transgender youth. In the past year, our youth-program staff have visited more than 30 OC high-school Gay/Straight Alliances, and we are currently halfway through our first youth-led Campaign Summer Boot Camp.

Up to 25 LGBT youth between ages 14 and 23, representing at least 16 schools from across the county, show up twice a week to learn the steps of organizing and implementing a grassroots campaign. The goal of their Color Me Equal campaign is to make OC schools safer and more inclusive for all. They are no longer willing to accept second-class citizenship and are using their minds, voices and bodies to demand a more equal, just and compassionate society.

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