Karen Ocamb

Equality California at a Tipping Point

Filed By Karen Ocamb | November 14, 2011 5:15 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: California gay groups, EqCa, Equality California, John Duran, Laurie McBride, LGBT organizations, lobbying organizations, Torie Osborn

EQCA-Laurie-McBride-and-John-Duran-.jpgI wrote an analysis about the existential question facing Equality California, the statewide LGBT lobbying organization, for the issue of Frontiers In LA magazine hitting the streets today. In the piece, now posted online at FrontiersLA.com, I also note the controversy in the 50th Assembly District - but I intend to do more on that specific race in a separate blog post. This piece on EQCA, I point out that a collapse of the organization would not be unprecedented. Here are the opening paragraphs:

LIFE Lobby Executive Director Laurie McBride and civil rights attorney and LIFE Lobby board chair John Duran in 1992. Today, McBride supports challenger Torie Osborn and Duran supports Assemblymember Betsy Butler in the 50th Assembly District race. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Is Equality California still important and relevant? Or has the statewide LGBT political lobbying organization run its course? These fundamental questions are being asked now as the EQCA board struggles to save what to some appears to be a sinking ship after a series of economic and personnel blows. To make matters worse, the organization's existential dilemma is being played out behind closed doors against the backdrop of a serious electoral redistricting fight that recently turned its ire on EQCA.

An EQCA collapse would not be unprecedented.

More after the break.

The Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles raised money in the mid-1970s to contribute to politicians who were or promised to be good on gay issues, such as Asemblymember Willie Brown, Assembly Speaker Leo McCarthy, Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally and Gov. Jerry Brown (who decriminalized sex between consenting adults of the same gender). MECLA also worked to defeat the anti-gay Briggs Initiative in 1978. MECLA collapsed when its strong leaders left or died from AIDS.

LIFE AIDS Lobby was formed in 1985 to respond to the AIDS crisis. They relied on straight liberal elected officials such as Willie Brown, Art Agnos and David Roberti, whose openly gay aide Stan Hadden helped craft important AIDS legislation before he died of the disease.

LIFE AIDS Lobby was made up of a broad cross-section of groups from ACT UP/L.A.'s Connie Norman to Log Cabin Republican co-founder Frank Ricchiazzi, with young civil rights attorney John Duran heading the board and Laurie McBride serving as executive director. (Full disclosure: Frontiers publisher Bob Craig served as Treasurer.) LIFE also helped defeat mean-spirited AIDS initiatives such as Prop. 64, the LaRouche Initiative. Though LGBTs didn't generate a lot of support for the gay civil rights bill AB 101, they took to the streets with its veto by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson. After the election of pro-gay Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 1998, support for LIFE dropped, and the organization collapsed.

California Alliance for Pride and Equality emerged with LGBT leaders recruiting longtime San Francisco-based politico Jean Harris as executive director. When that didn't work out, major donor and board member Geoff Kors, a Palm Springs-based attorney, stepped in as interim executive director. Kors assumed the job full-time in April 2002, and EQCA started playing political hardball and fundraising as if the organization was in constant campaign mode.

Not everyone was happy with Kors' tactics. In a Jan. 6, 2011, L.A. Weekly story about Kors' announced departure on Dec. 3, 2010, former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, California's first openly gay person elected to the state Legislature, famously said: "Equality California never really convinced legislators on their own [to pass a bill], but inevitably something would pass--and they'd send out a press release taking all the credit. I never thought they were team players. They would take credit, and it was more credit than they earned."

But from April 2002, with a staff of two and a six-figure debt inherited from CAPE, Kors grew the organization to a $7 million budget, net assets of $1.5 million and a staff of 20. The board grew, too, from nine to over 50, and became the second largest member and donor LGBT organization in the nation. Additionally, by the 2010 elections, all constitutional office-holders supported full equality for LGBT people. "We're in a really strong position today," Kors told Frontiers at the time.

"All of us turned to Equality California because it was so successful," Marc Solomon, former executive director of Boston-based MassEquality, told the L.A. Weekly.

"Geoff took the organization from infancy to maturity with his trailblazing leadership and tireless commitment, which have helped make California a leader in the fight for LGBT equality in America. We know his shoes are tough to fill," Cary Davidson, Equality California Board Chair, told Frontiers in Dec. 2010.

Read the full article here.

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