Lara honored at EQCA gala
by Peter Hernandez
When state Senator Ricardo Lara approached the stage at last weekend's Equality California awards gala, he spoke of the "browning" of California and his coming out experience in East Los Angeles rather than his proposed Boy Scouts taxation bill, which he announced just days ahead of the event.
Lara (D-Long Beach) and others who spoke at the February 23 gala at the Fairmont Hotel orchestrated an atmosphere of possibility reinforced by artistic and political achievements. The message was that something big was happening, and now is the time to take action.
"Deal with it, the new face of California is right here," said Lara, a gay Latino, recounting an incident when he received a homophobic e-mail from an unhappy constituent.
The event was the first for John O'Connor, the executive director for EQCA, who was formerly executive director of the LGBT Community Center for the Desert in Palm Springs. Dressed in a silver tuxedo, O'Connor's address met applause from a crowd of some 400 people.
"We are on the cusp of extraordinary breakthroughs," O'Connor said.
EQCA's persuasive language regarding imminent change complemented disparate accomplishments like queer activist Madeleine Lim's work as a media organizer or brothers Peter and Benjamin Bratt's 2009 film, La Mission, which were respectively awarded at the gala.
"All people are conditioned to be part of an ideology," said Benjamin Bratt, adding that his film dismantled a masochistic father in the Mission district of San Francisco who couldn't accept his son's homosexuality.
La Mission resonated with gay San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission and said that the film captured the pain of coming out. Freshman Congressman Mark Takano (D-Riverside) said the film reminded him of his coming out.
Lara received EQCA's Leadership Award after an emotional introduction by a former Boy Scout named Matthew Kimball. Now 30, Kimball, a tech investor, recounted learning about a petition started by the mother of 17-year-old gay Bay Area Boy Scout Ryan Andresen, who was denied his Eagle award, which is the highest rank.
"I think it needs to take back its British roots of brotherhood that welcomed all boys," Kimball said of the scouting organization. He came out as a gay man just six months ago after learning about the petition.
Gay Scout Ryan Andresen's mother, Karen Andresen, 49, said locals resent her petition when she goes grocery shopping near her home in the East Bay city of Moraga.
Though the Andresens moved to Moraga for its schools, their son now goes to Maybeck High School in Berkeley, a private school that has benefited him psychologically after being inundated by reporters, Karen Andresen said.
The Andresens went public last fall, resulting in a burst of media attention that resumed last month when word leaked that the Boy Scouts of America was considering lifting its ban on gay scouts and scout leaders. A few weeks ago, the BSA said that it would revisit the issue later this spring.
Lara's legislation, called the Youth Equality Act, would remove state tax exemption from youth groups that discriminate against leaders and members based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Lara didn't mention it in his remarks.
Lim was awarded for her array of accomplishments in media arts. She founded Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project in 2000, which holds workshops, like last year's video semester in Gallup, New Mexico with Navajo Indian lesbians.
"I think film is super powerful – seeing it on the big screen opposed to books. It's all about the visual," said Lim.
Lim's film Sambal Belacan, made 10 years after fleeing persecution in Singapore due to lesbian activism, explores Lim's intersection of sexuality, race, and nationality and is banned in Singapore.
"If I teach a community how to make a film, that's many more films to be made," Lim, the recipient of EQCA's Good Neighbor Award, said. On stage, she acknowledged that her organization's budget has taken a cut of one-third, with a full-time staff of three and some hundred volunteers.
She wants to take her project to Uganda, where a 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would prohibit same-sex relationships and penalize affiliates of the LGBT community is still being debated.
EQCA spokesman Steve Roth said that the dinner, attended by 439 people, raised approximately $225,000 for the LGBT statewide lobbying organization.