Gay California Assembly Speaker Addresses LGBT Grads
The gay speaker of the California state assembly delivered the keynote address last week at the University of California, Los Angeles's Lavender Graduation.
Speaker John A. Pérez offered encouraging words to the 44 LGBT students graduating from UCLA. He also asked the new graduates to keep fighting for causes such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and transgender rights.
The full text of the speech is below:
“Good afternoon. I am honored to be here as part of UCLA’s 15th Lavender Graduation. This campus has been a leader on LGBT issues for more than 50 years, and the Lavender Graduations continue to be an expression of that commitment.
The word ‘lavender’ was once code to deride and demean gay people. In some antigay hysteria during the 1952 presidential campaign, it was even suggested that a Republican win would -- quote -- get all those ‘lavender lads’ out of the State Department -- unquote.
I don’t know about you, but I think Lavender Lad would make an even better gay superhero than Green Lantern. And then there’s Wonder Woman. I don’t know if we really ever had to wonder about Wonder Woman.
I do know exactly why I am here today—to offer my congratulations to each one of you for your graduation. You certainly have a lot to be proud of.
And today is also a source of pride for everyone who has helped you strive for success.
The families you were born into and the families you have created around you … friends … significant others … they are here today to support you, to cheer you on, and to celebrate with you the importance of this day. And so am I.
Not only because of the significance of this moment in your lives, but for the profound significance each of you represents for our community.
The very existence of this ceremony reflects some of the gains we have made as a community. It speaks to the powerful nature of a movement founded on the principles of equality, justice and human dignity.
When I was in college there were no openly gay legislators in California and LGBT issues were rarely discussed in the legislature. Now there are seven of us in the LGBT Caucus, the oldest and largest in the nation, and after November there may be as many as 12 members.
On Monday, we will be honoring LGBT leaders from throughout California at our Pride ceremony on the Assembly floor — a ceremony my colleague Tom Ammiano and I were proud to reestablish as one of our early acts as Assembly members.
One of the people we are honoring is a UCLA alum, Dustin Lance Black, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Milk. Dustin can certainly tell a powerful story.
But so can your classmate Mark Chambers, who in his 40s went to a community college while working and taking care of his children and is graduating today with honors.
So can Ruth Mendez, who in her four years at UCLA has emerged as a bright and inspirational leader for the Transgender community, building vital links of understanding between the LGBT community and the Asian Pacific Islander community.
So can Marcus McRae and Mikhail Miller, both of whom overcame family disapproval and found a home and a true sense of community here at UCLA, proving that each of us can lead lives of dignity, accomplishment and worth—no matter what anyone, even those closest to us, may say.
We all have a story to tell, and though there have been and will be obstacles, as I look around this room, and from talking with some of you earlier, I know that the ultimate stories you will share will be of ones of triumph, success and happiness.
You have already served as examples to your fellow students and as inspiration for all who remember an earlier time when LGBT people weren’t as accepted or embraced by society.
And we must take care to remember that there are men and women who are still trapped in the closet, fearful of an angry and sometimes hostile world.
I wish they could see this commencement and know that there are men and women out there fighting for them every single day — and know that, no matter how isolated or lonely they may feel, there is an entire community waiting to embrace and love them for who they are.
Even though the world you’re about to enter entails many difficulties, you must step into it with courage and conviction, so that you can, in turn, inspire others to take those same powerful and hopeful steps.
You are graduating into a world of challenges. Too much debt and too few jobs are chief among them. As you face those challenges, we need you to remain a part of the larger struggle.
We have had some big wins. Court after court has ruled in favor of marriage equality — a position embraced with simple eloquence by President Obama.
Our brothers and sisters can now serve their country openly in the military, now that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has been rightly relegated to the dustbin of history.
And never before have LGBT people been as well represented in fields across the board, from government, to business, to the arts.
OK, we’ve never exactly been underrepresented in the arts.
But despite those gains — and spurred by our successes, we know we have more work to do — and that work must begin within our community itself.
The LGBT community must be a welcoming, inviting coalition that reflects and respects the voices of LGBT people from every background and from every walk of life. We must embrace the voices of those who struggle in other communities as well.
And for our movement to be successful, we must strive to ensure that every one of our voices is heard. LGBT people are woven throughout every inch of the great tapestry of American life. Making sure others know that – and know us – can only help our cause.
This is vital work for our community, and its work that each of you are uniquely situated to help advance.
Building those coalitions, establishing links to communities that may not understand or accept us is vital if we are to overcome the external challenges we face.
In the weeks and months and years ahead we need you to help fight unjust propositions and to ensure that hateful, shameful laws like North Carolina’s Amendment One meet the same fate as ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’
We need you to help keep the pressure on so overdue laws like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act are finally enacted and so every American can truly have equal protection in our system of justice.
Right now people in too many states still have to live in fear that they can be fired just for being gay.
And for Transgender people that fear is nearly universal across our country. I know the struggle for ENDA has been frustrating. But we will prevail.
I remember waiting for years to see the hate-crimes bill signed into federal law ... waiting so long some wondered if it would ever actually happen.
And I remember the pride, the honor, and the historic significance of being in the White House with President Obama when he signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.
Seeing the president sign his name to that law was a powerful moment for me. Sharing the room with Matthew Shepard’s mother, with the sisters of James Byrd, and with the sheriff who brought Matthew’s killers to justice was an opportunity I am deeply grateful for.
And I know that together we can create the environment where the president will sign ENDA into law one day — and one of you may very well be in the room when he does.
That is the faith we must keep close to our hearts as we seek to overcome the challenges we face.
That is especially true as we seek to end the culture of bullying and hate that has claimed Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Billy Lucas, Asher Brown, and too many others.
None of this will be easy. In fact, it will be long, sometimes painful work that recalls the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, ‘Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. ... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.’
Each of you has shown your passion and dedication and concern through your hard work and by being exactly who you are.
It has taken sacrifice and struggle to get where you are, and it will take more to get where you want to be -- and where we need to be as a community and a nation.
Today you take the next steps on your journey. And you are not taking those steps alone. Every person in our community will be walking with you in spirit.
The men and women who endured the arrests, persecution and public shaming in the last century will be with you.
The men and women who exploded our movement into the national consciousness at the Stonewall Inn one hot night in June 1969 will be with you.
The parents and families of Matthew Shepard, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Billy Lucas, and Asher Brown will be with you.
And everyone in this room will be with you as you go out into a world that is depending on you to transform it.
Congratulations, all you Lavender Lads and Wonder Women!”