Editors' Note: Guest blogger Geoff Kors is the Executive Director of Equality California.
Last night's elections in California were full of victories for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. Meg "Civil Unions Are Good Enough" Whitman was defeated by pro-equality Jerry Brown, in spite of the more than $150 million of her personal fortune she poured into her campaign. And this morning Kamala Harris pulled ahead of Steve Cooley in her race for Attorney General, though the race is very close and votes are still being counted. Both Brown and Harris have sworn not to defend Prop. 8 in federal court, so their victories will help to protect the critical ruling by District Court Judge Walker that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional. There's also great news for LGBT candidates and allies, as well as for a couple offices key to our progress over the next several years.
Why did these candidates win? In part, it's because they fully and publicly support LGBT rights. Candidates who are timid and afraid to take a stand don't win their races. Equality California only endorses candidates who are 100 percent for full equality and nothing less.
It's also because we as a community put in the time and effort needed to ensure these candidates win. Equality California and our volunteers did everything we could to ensure that pro-equality voters turned out to vote for pro-equality candidates. We reached out to 400,000 pro-equality voters by mail, another 90,000 over the phone and in person, more than 600,000 online and millions more through the media. Thousands of you showed up to volunteer and to vote. And it shows in the results.
LGBT Candidates Prevail in Their Races
Next January, the LGBT Caucus in the California Legislature will more than double in size, from three members to seven. We will have the highest percentage of openly LGBT legislators out of all the states. Rich Gordon (AD 21-San Mateo), Ricardo Lara (AD 50-Los Angeles) and Toni Atkins (AD 76-San Diego) will join Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (AD 46-Los Angeles), Christine Kehoe (SD 39-San Diego), Mark Leno (SD 3-San Francisco) and Tom Ammiano (AD 13-San Francisco) as Caucus members. Not only will the Caucus be bigger, but it will have even greater representation from areas outside of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
In Alameda County, Victoria Kolakowski is close to making history by becoming the first elected transgender judge, winning a seat on the county's Superior Court. Equality California supported her campaign, mobilizing dozens of volunteers to have conversations with nearly 2,300 pro-equality voters, making tens of thousands of phone calls and mailing 30,000 piece of election mail to ensure that pro-equality voters turned out to vote for her. Absentee ballots are still being counted, but Vicky is maintaining a slim lead.
Other Offices that Matter
Like always, attention centered on high-profile races like the Governor and Attorney General. I'm ecstatic about the victories of longtime allies Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris. But they aren't the only pro-LGBT advocates we're celebrating.
Tom Torlakson, former science teacher and high school coach, was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, where he has committed to making our schools safer for LGBT youth. Equality California will be working with Torlakson and the State Legislature next year to address bullying. The recent suicides of LGBT youth in our state and across the nation show we have much more to do to ensure that the environments our youth are growing up in are safe and affirming.
Our new Insurance Commissioner, Dave Jones, has committed to helping to ensure that transgender people are treated fairly and equally by their health insurance companies. We'll work with him and with the Legislature to enhance protections for transgender people and all LGBT Californians.
Marriage equality advocate Gavin Newsom proved that taking a stand for equality is good politics. After officiating over marriages of same-sex couples in San Francisco in 2004, some people suggested that Newsom's career was dead. Our new Lieutenant Governor is proof that candidates who stand up for equal rights can thrive in the political world.
And in a major victory, Prop. 8 author and Yes on 8 attorney Andrew Pugno was defeated by pro-equality candidate Dr. Richard Pan for a seat in the California State Assembly. The National Organization for Marriage poured money into the race, attacking Dr. Pan for supporting marriage equality and for wanting schools to teach about LGBT people. And they failed. Pugno already has blamed the "homosexual lobby" for his defeat, and we wear that badge proudly. Equality California had staff and volunteers on the ground working hard in this race, and we are thrilled by the results.
Last but not least, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer won her re-election campaign over a challenge from Carly Fiorina. The National Organization for Marriage spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to get Fiorina elected, and failed. Boxer has been a reliable vote for LGBT rights, and we're proud to send her back to DC. We're also sending U.S. Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Lynn Woolsey, John Garamendi, Jackie Speier, Pete Stark, Mike Honda and Loretta Sanchez back to DC to help advance LGBT rights at the federal level.
Building on the Victories
The Ninth Circuit Court will begin hearing arguments in the federal case against Prop. 8 on December 6 of this year. We can count on Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris to keep the state on the side of equality and not defend Prop. 8. We must do all we can to support the case as it progresses.
There's so much more to LGBT equality than just marriage equality. The candidates we just elected to the California Legislature will help us take the state to the next level. We're ready to eliminate bullying in our schools, ensure equal access to health care and more.
We have our work cut out for us. While advancing equality in Congress might become more difficult over the next couple of years, we're now sitting on a golden opportunity to advance equality in California, which will also influence progress across the nation.