SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As a child growing up in a rural New Mexico, Assembly member Rick Chavez Zbur says he aspired to be in public service.
He would tag along with his dad as they campaigned for democratic officials every election cycle.
However, at the time there was very little LGBTQ+ representation in government, so for Zbur, a gay man, the idea of being elected become far-fetched.
“When I came to terms with being an LGBTQ person, a gay man in college and in the time right after that, I just thought that, you know, that just wasn’t in the cards for me. I mean, think about it. The only person that was gay ever elected to anything was Harvey Milk,” Zbur said.
Zbur moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as an attorney for 25 years. He ran for Congress in 1996, but was unsuccessful. After that, he shifted his focus to promoting LGBTQ+ rights by getting involved with Equality California as executive director.
After leading the largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization in the nation, it was a conversation with his sister, who passed away in 2020 after a long battle with ALS, that inspired Zbur to run for the state Legislature.
“She said, 'Rick, I know you’ve been very, you’ve been doing a lot of good things at Equality California, and in the environmental movement, but you were supposed to do something in public service,'” Zbur said.
At 66 years-old, Zbur finally realized his childhood dream when he was elected to the California State Assembly in November. He is now a part of the most diverse Legislature in California’s history, over 10% of members identify as LGBTQ+.
Now with the ability to change state policy, Zbur got right to work introducing Assembly Bill 5, or the “Safe Supportive Schools Act,” which would require teachers to do an online training course to learn how to be better equipped to support LGBTQ+ students.
Data from the Trevor Project and the CDC shows LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be bullied at school and are more likely to consider suicide compared to their peers.
“LGBTQ students still experience harassment, violence and lack of affirmation in school settings far too often.” Zbur said.
For the first time in history, the California Department of Education raised the Pride flag in front of the department’s building.
Zbur was an invited guest who spoke about the importance of sending the message that California schools are here for every student.
“Our community is under attack and so we need simple things to show LGBTQ kids and an LGBTQ parent that their government is on their side — these things matter,” Zbur said.
The California State Capitol has also been hosting Pride festivities. Earlier this month, the state Legislature invited LGBTQ+ community leaders to be honored on the Assembly and Senate floors.
One honoree, Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, was met with opposition from a coalition of faith-based organizations. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is a drag group who dresses up in religious attire and uses religious imagery.
While Sister Roma was being honored on the floor, many Assembly Republicans left the chamber and joined protesters outside.
“This isn’t partisan — we had to walk out today in conscience because we could not stand for religious bigotry anywhere,” said Assembly Minority Leader James Gallagher.
Only three Republican Assembly members stayed on the Assembly floor, which Zbur says was disappointing to see.
“Luckily, we’re in a state where I think Democrats, you know, embrace the values of inclusion, and we should continue moving ahead. And, you know, let the Republicans do what they’re going to do,” Zbur said.
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