Ricardo Lara, 37, is an out member of the California Assembly who has LGBT equality at the top of his agenda (he was recently chosen as one of The Advocate's "40 Under 40.") One of the politician's most recent endeavors is the introduction of Assembly Joint Resolution 43, or the LGBTQ American Bill of Rights. Here he tells us what the legislation is about and why it's so important:
The Declaration of Independence is the nation's most cherished symbol of liberty but its most famous words “…all men are created equal…” and have the inalienable right to “…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”… are promises yet to be afforded to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals who live as second-class citizens because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Many people often have trouble understanding the struggles that LGBTQ people must endure. Usually, it’s a very tough and lonely journey. Some are fired from their jobs and rejected by their families. Others are evicted or become homeless because of discrimination or violence against them. Some families with same-sex parents are denied the opportunity to take time off from work for the birth of their child or to care for an ailing partner or child. And same-sex couples that do marry must still pay higher taxes and still are not allowed the same benefits heterosexual couples count on for the financial security of their families.
Was this the intention of our nation’s promise?
This month, as we participate in the festivities surrounding the 236th anniversary of the signing of our country's Declaration of Independence and as we reflect on the words “all men are created equal…”, I urge you to call on President Obama and Congress to truly recognize LGBTQ individual as equals and put an end to the homophobia and transphobia that permeates communities across our great nation and tears families apart.
One way the President and Congress can move to ensure LGBTQ individuals are treated equally is by acting to include sexual orientation and gender identity in landmark Federal anti-discrimination laws. In this effort, I recently introduced a historic resolution – Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 43, also known as the LGBTQ American Bill of Rights. AJR 43, introduced with the sponsorship of Bienestar Human Services Inc. (BIENESTAR), will put the California State Legislature on record in support of updating federal law to protect all Americans, including LGBTQ Americans.
California has one of the largest LGBTQ populations in the nation and offers some of the most comprehensive protections for LGBTQ individuals. However, even these laws fall short of the protections our LGBTQ community needs. Although there have been recent gains in federal protections, temporary gains from executive orders and piecemeal protections in a few states, nothing can match the safeguards, symbolism and promise of equality for all people like the inclusion of "sexual orientation and gender identity" alongside "race, color, sex, national origin and religion" in landmark federal civil rights acts. Without a comprehensive response by the federal government, LGBTQ Americans will continue to be at the mercy of state and local laws that can either protect them or target them for discrimination.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act among other federal laws provide individuals protections from discrimination and give access to benefits. However, these federal anti-discrimination laws withhold equal status and parity for LGBTQ people. Without parity, LGBTQ individuals can be denied a promotion or fired solely due to one’s LGBTQ status, be refused the ability to rent or sell housing just because of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity, be subjected to discrimination in public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, and places of entertainment, and be subjected to an employer denying time off for same-sex families for the birth of a child or to care for an ailing partner, among other discriminatory practices.
A freedom that is fundamental to our democracy is the responsibility to update our laws to reflect our growth as a nation. It’s time we do it for the millions of LGBTQ Americans who are not yet free. In ensuring freedom and equality for all, I ask all Americans to join me in my effort to pass AJR 43 and urge our nation’s leaders to update federal protections nationwide for LGBTQ people – a community that has been excluded for far too long.
# # #
Asm. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) is in his first term representing the 50th Assembly District; he is the first openly LGBT Chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. He is also Chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and Chair of the Select Committee on Financial Empowerment. He is a member of Appropriations, Banking and Finance, Higher Education, and Water, Parks and Wildlife Committees and of the LGBT Caucus. Mr. Lara was recently profiled in the 2012 Advocate Magazine’s “40 under 40” edition.