Karen Ocamb

Geoff Kors' Moving Final EQCA Speech

Filed By Karen Ocamb | February 15, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: EqCa, Equality California, Geoff Kors, James Nickoff, Kate Kendell, Mark Leno

Saturday night, Feb. 12, Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors, who is leaving the organization next month, spoke for the final time at an EQCA Awards gala in the grand rotunda of San Francisco's City Hall. EQCA honored new Attorney General Kamala Harris and Vicky Kolakowski, the nation's first elected openly transgender judge.

Kors was introduced by his friend, National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell, who wrote an extraordinary farewell ode last Friday in the Bay Area Reporter. And in attendance were LGBT icon Phyllis Lyon and State Sen. Mark Leno, as well as West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tem John Duran and attorney/businesswoman Diane Abbitt, both of whom served on the EQCA board, who flew up for the occasion. The event raised over $400,000, $100,000 of which identified for the newly created Geoff Kors Public Policy Advocate Position - the brainchild of former Equality California President Kathy Levinson and her wife Naomi Fine.

After all the "thank yous" to EQCA, friends, and his partner James Williamson, Kors told an incredibly moving story about his best friend, Jim Nickoff. Here's how that story started, but please click inside to read the whole speech.

Geoff Kors' final formal speech:

Thank you. Serving as Executive Director of Equality California has been a true honor. I want to thank each of you for your generous support. I want to especially acknowledge a few donors who are here tonight who have made gifts of more than $100,000 to our fight for equality. Tonight's presenting sponsor AT&T and 2009 equal award recipient AT&T California President Ken McNeely, PG&E, Bank of America, Wells Faro, Horizons Foundation, Kathy Levinson and Naomi Fine, and Michael Dunn. To a true hero — Jim Hormel — and his partner Michael Nygen thank for more than half a million dollars of support . And let's show our thanks to our million dollar plus donors: the Walter and Evelyn Hass Jr. Fund and the California Teachers Association.

Thank you.

I want to acknowledge the dedicated members of the Equality California Board of Directors and staff. Their work has elevated this organization and made my job such a joy. I want to especially thank the individuals who have served as Board President, which is the equivalent of a full time volunteer job. Kathy Levinson, Nicole Murray Rameriz, Diane Abbitt, Leslie Katz, Lester Olmsted Rose, Jody Cole, Mayor John Duran, Gary Soto, Cary Davidson, Cathy Schwamberger and Clarissa Filgouin. I want to thank former board member and our attorney David Codell who wrote our amicus brief in the Federal Prop 8 case. And a very special shout out to our managing director who is often the last person I speak to at night - and first person in the morning - Jim Carroll. Would the former and present board and staff please stand and be acknowledged.

And importantly, I want to thank Equality California for not only giving me the job of a lifetime but

the greatest gift I could have hoped for. For it was five years ago this past Thursday on a plane traveling for work that I met the love of my life, James Williamson. Thank you sweetheart for your support, activism and patience.

While tonight is obviously significant for me it is also significant to the community because of the two amazing people we are honoring.

Tonight' Equality and Justice Award recipient, Judge Vicky Kolowkowski has truly shattered a glass ceiling and in so doing changed and likely saved the lives of countless transgender individuals. The recipient of the Del Martin and Phylliss

Lyon Marriage Equality Award, Attorney General Kamala Harris, has refused to defend Proposition 8 in court and in so doing has dramatically increases our likelihood of restoring marriage equality. Equality California will be there fighting in court and at the ballot box until everyone can marry the person they love.

It was seven years ago today that marriage equality came to City Hall. I had the great honor of serving as the official witness as Mark Leno married the 7th couple to be wed - my best friend of twenty years Jim Nickoff and his wonderful partner Dave Lawson. For those who don't know Jim, I want to share his story. Jim came out in junior school at the age of 14. Something not unheard of today, but in the 1970s, it was rare - and very courageous. Jim's picture soon found its way to the cover of the East Lansing paper - he was part of a conga line dancing for gay rights. Jim endured horrendous bullying and even worse, Jim was kicked out of his home at 15. Rejected and seeing nothing but a lifetime of pain, Jim attempted suicide and fortunately failed. He put himself through high school and college and moved here to gay mecca and dedicated his time to giving back. Jim served as CFO of the Stop AIDS Project and Project Open Hand, Treasurer of Equality California, the Federation of Gay Games, the Harvey Milk Club, and the campaign to win domestic partnership as well as treasure of campaigns for many candidates including Barbara Boxer and Mark Leno. And he spent his weekends as a volunteer teaching martial arts to youth.

When Jim and Dave married in 2004 he again made the front page of the paper - this time the Washington Post. He was so proud that his love was being publicly acknowledged and celebrated. Yet despite finding love, friendship and a supportive community, he struggled every day with pain from being bullied and rejected by his family - the self esteem issues, lack of trust and feelings of worthlessness. Three years ago, on what is truly the darkest day of my life, Jim called to say goodbye and committed suicide.

Tragically, Jim's story is not an anomaly. There is nothing more important we can do then create a world where LGBT youth grow up feeling loved and supported.

I felt Jim with me as Equality California worked hand in hand with our incredible Senator Mark Leno for two years to pass a bill to allow teenagers to see a mental health professional without their parents consent. That bill was signed into law and took effect January 1st and I know his life would have different if a teenage Jimmy Nickoff had been able to get the help he needed. I know how proud he would be of all of us for making it better for youth today.

And we should all be proud of what we have accomplished.

This year Equality California is sponsoring two groundbreaking bills to protect LGBT youth. The first is a comprehensive anti-bullying bill by Assemblymember Ammiano. The second, by Senator Leno would make California the first state in the nation to require public schools to teach about the contributions of LGBT individuals and our civil rights struggle. Imagine growing up and learning about Ambassador Jim Hormel, Harvey Milk, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin in school and knowing you are part of such an amazing community.

With your continued support and activism, the incredible board and amazing staff of Equality California and our terrific elected officials, there is no doubt we will achieve our mission of equality and acceptance. And I look forward to celebrating our gains with all of you in this room in the years ahead.

Thank you.

Crossposted at LGBT POV


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Good. Finally he's going. He wasted 45 million on a very bad campaign and then was an arrogant asshole about it.
Good riddance, Geoff Kors.

Wasted the $45m? Yes. But accomplished other positive things? Yes indeedy.

We're all a mixed bag, my friend. All of us.

The above comment is proof positive that sometimes, we're our own worst enemies.

Sad.

You know, people can make mistakes. Geoff Kors is no saint- and his leadership was part of the massive failure of the Prop 8 campaign.

That said, Geoff was the reason California was in the place to even consider Prop 8. He created the infrastructure of policy on the statewide level that made marriage an attainable goal.

I definitely appreciate the work he did and wish him the best.