Tonight concludes my term as President of San Diego Democrats for Equality, and it also concludes 26 consecutive years of service on the Executive Board. I have served as Executive Vice President, Membership Director, Legislative Advocate, and two stints as Publications Director. I also served as Past President, since I previously served as President in 1991 and 1992. My 1991 election was the club’s first contested election for President. I had to actually conduct a campaign that included a brochure, direct mail, telephone calls and a get out the vote drive … and I won, by two votes. This time around, I reluctantly consented to run as a caretaker for a year until we could find someone new willing to take over. But it didn’t make sense to change leadership in 2012 during an election year, and then the club restructuring process stretched my term out to three years. That totals five years as the length of my combined terms as President, more than any other President – although Jeri Dilno still holds the record for four consecutive years as President.
Over these past 26 years, I have attended over 500 board and club meetings, with close to perfect attendance. If anyone still has doubts about my commitment to the club, they need only to look at my T-shirt [which read “I believe that we will win – SDSU Basketball”]. As my Facebook friends all know, I am an avid Aztec men’s basketball fan and season ticket holder. As I speak, the team is preparing to tipoff their Sweet 16 game against Arizona. I would love to be with the Aztecs up in Anaheim, but I know that I belong here with my club.
As anyone who follows Aztec men’s basketball knows, the mantra of the fans for about the last four years has been “I believe that we will win!” To be perfectly candid, I’m not 100% confident that the Aztecs will prevail over the Wildcats tonight [as it turned out we came awfully close], but I am when it comes to the San Diego Democrats for Equality and the LGBT equality movement, I have no doubt that we will prevail.
That confidence hasn’t always existed. I’ll note that during my first term as President, the Aztecs men’s basketball team went 2-26. The prospects the club faced when we were founded in 1975 were just a bleak.
In 1975, we were considered criminals. “Homosexual sodomy” was a crime in California. The Legislature, in a dramatic vote, struck down those statutes in 1975, the bill was signed by Jerry Brown during his first go-around as Governor and the repeal went into effect January 1, 1976. The club’s focus back in those days was on preventing harassment (even from the police who should have been protecting us) and to pass laws to keep us from being fired from our jobs or discharged from the military merely for being gay or lesbian.
Then came the Briggs Initiative in 1978, which led in initial polls but was eventually defeated. That initiative would have prevented gays and lesbians, and even those who supported us, from teaching in public schools. Fast forward to now, when an openly gay member of our club is serving as President of the San Diego Unified District School Board. We are winning.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, marriage equality was not something activists expected to see in our lifetimes. Back then, we were fighting for dignity not equality. Look how far we’ve come. Just three weeks ago, a Washington Post/ABC News Poll found that 59% of Americans support marriage equality, with majority support in every part of the country. Who would have predicted in 1975, that in 2013, we would have an African-American President of the United States call for full LGBT equality in his second inaugural address? We are winning.
In 1975, there were no openly gay or lesbian elected officials in the State of California. Harvey Milk broke that barrier in 1977 when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Look at where we are today.
Without a doubt, Chris Kehoe would never have become the first LGBT elected official in San Diego if it weren’t for the groundwork and grassroots work done by our club. We were a leader in the campaign to have district elections in the city, and we were instrumental in drawing the lines of the Third City Council District so that an LGBT candidate could win. Our club provided the core volunteers and donors for the Kehoe campaign. Her opponent called the campaign a crusade – and it was – and we won.
Chris’ election paved the way for the subsequent elections of Toni Atkins, Todd Gloria, David Roberts, Kevin Beiser and others. In my first term as President, Toni Atkins was a Vice President of the club. Now she has been elected as Speaker of the Assembly, arguably making her one of the most powerful women in California. We are winning.
Despite progress, we still have a long road to travel until we reach our destination. Last summer, after the Supreme Court decision striking down Proposition 8 and DOMA, a reporter and I were discussing the impact of the decision. She asked whether I still saw a need for organizations with a mission of promoting equality. My response was that the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954 didn’t end racial segregation in public schools (I can attest to that since I grew up in the South in the 1960’s) and the Civil Rights Act of 1965 didn’t end racial discrimination. Just as the mission civil rights groups wasn’t complete then, there will continue to be a need for LGBT organizations to defend the rights we have earned.
But we do live in different era, and the club needs to evolve with the times. That’s why the club established the Transformation Task Force to ensure that we rise to the next level. It is a blueprint for a revitalized organization, and it is now up to a new generation of leaders to do the implementation.
I’d like to highlight two themes from the Transformation Task Force as being successful to our future success.
First, we need to expand our vision of equality by becoming more involved in other important social justice and progressive causes and not focus exclusively on LGBT rights. We need to fight for and defend equality for all. And when it comes to LGBT equality, we need to put more emphasis on the “T.” The transgender equality movement is not too far removed from where the LGB movement was in 1975. We have work to do, but I believe that we will ultimately win that arena too.
Second, we need to expand and engage our membership. It was reassuring to learn that 30 members have already signed up for committees. That is how we can get members involved and develop future leaders.
We also need to have more fun! The club picnic last August was a big hit, and we should consider the model of local groups like HRC and the Victory Fund who have happy hour receptions with elected officials to build their base of support.
But while we are having fun, there is some hard work to do. We need to return to being a grassroots organization. As many of you have heard me say before, and I’ll repeat tonight: wearing buttons is not enough. Wearing T-shirts, displaying bumper stickers or yard signs, going to debates and endorsement forums, attending fund raisers (although political contributions are also important) are not enough. We need to walk the precincts, staff the phone banks, do the data entry, or whatever volunteer work you are able to do. That’s how we got Chris Kehoe elected, and that’s the only way we can continue to win elections. And that’s why we’ve invited the GO (Grassroots Organizing) Team to make a presentation tonight.
Finally, we need to do the community outreach necessary to grow and diversify our membership and to attract more youth, allies, people of color and others.
I’m confident that the new Executive Board is up to the challenge. They are indeed a winning team.
As I pass the baton, I would like to take a moment to thank all of board members who served on the Executive Board with me over the years, especially during the past three years. I’d also like to thank you, the members, for giving me the opportunity to play a leadership role in the club during these exciting times. The campaign for LGBT equality is truly the civil rights movement of our generation. And, as the saying goes, all politics is local. Our club has certainly been and continues to be on the forefront of that battle.
I believe that we will win!
Remarks delivered by Doug Case, immediate past President, at the installation of new Democrats for Equality officers.