EQCA: Ensuring LGBT equality in CaliforniaTop Highlights, Around the City Thursday, July 28th, 2011
Roland Palencia answers questions about how San Diegans can affect work in Sacramento
The first task for Roland Palencia, Equality California’s new executive director, included a quick tour around the state. On the job for only three days, Palencia stopped in San Diego.
“I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve California’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and to build upon Equality California’s tremendous success,” said Palencia. “I look forward to getting to know and working with our dedicated membership, legislators and coalition partners as we strive to further Equality California’s mission to achieve full equality for all LGBT Californians.”
As Palencia began work to learn more about the state he now serves, the San Diego LGBT Weekly had the same opportunity to learn more about him. In between meetings in a very busy travel schedule, he answered questions about his goals and how the state organization can help the local LGBT community.
San Diego LGBT Weekly: What is Equality California?
Roland Palencia: We are an organization that passes laws to protect LGBT people against discrimination. We also do advocacy work, electoral work and certainly work with pro-equality legislators to make sure we protect the civil rights of the LGBT community.
What interested you in the executive director job?
I think the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions of LGBT Californians. It’s a huge responsibility, but also a tremendous opportunity – to make fundamental changes in the conversation of who we are, from being a marginalized community to a community of contribution, to a community that has made a difference that has impacted lives of people not only in our own community but also people outside our community.
We have been involved in progressive movements, like the women’s movement, like the civil rights movement, the farm workers. We have built institutions that now provide services to all kinds of individuals and people.
So I want to make sure that we, the LGBT community, are seen for our tremendous contribution to the state of California. We want to fundamentally change that conversation.
What do you bring to Equality California? What was their interest in you?
I think my track record as a community activist. I have been a community activist for two decades, fighting for the rights of many of the underserved populations, such as the LGBT communities, people with HIV/AIDS, immigrants and people of color. I am really connected to those movements in a way.
In addition to my community activism, there is my track record of running multi-million dollar non-profit organizations. I was the chief of operations and vice president at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is now a worldwide entity that provides medical services to people with HIV and AIDS. I was also an executive director of a community clinic (Clinica Monseñor Oscar A. Romero), which I took from a billion and a half to seven billion and with dramatically more services that we provided.
That combination of grass roots activism plus my ability to build institutions that help deliver services for the community was very appealing to the board and led to my selection, among many other things.
What is the organization’s strength right now?
The strength is that we have mobilized the community to advocate, to fight for its civil rights. We have been able to pass over 70 pro-equality bills (over the past decade) that have dramatically changed the lives of LGBT Californians. We know that discrimination is a barrier that keeps individuals and communities from living up to their potential. We want to remove every barrier that prevents our community from doing that.
We could not have done that without the previous leadership that we had at Equality California, but also without the advocacy and activism of our members and our supporters, and also our contributors and donors.
Our strength, with the help of many of our legislators, move California from a state that had very few non-discrimination protection laws to a state that is probably the one that has the most protection for our LGBT community – not only here in the United States, but maybe also worldwide.
So you don’t get in trouble with your new bosses, I won’t ask the opposite to that question – What is the organization’s weakness? Instead, what do you think can be improved?
We want to implement some of those laws that have local impact. We want to spread equality equally, in terms of doing more regional and local work. Certainly, San Diego is one of the areas where we want to deepen our relationship.
What are your top agenda items?
One is that we need to successfully complete our legislative agenda.
(Palencia spoke about the importance of passing the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, which would amend the Education Code to include social sciences instruction on the contributions of LGBT people. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the FAIR Act into law just hours after Palencia’s interview with San Diego LGBT Weekly.)
What’s really important … is it creates visibility in terms of our contribution, and is part of that conversation. It recognizes our contributions not only to our own community, but to other movements and society as a whole. I think that is going to be very revolutionary that we are going to be able to do that in the state of California.
What type of support are you looking for from the LGBT community, and its allies? Are you looking to get people involved, are you looking for political activists, money, contributors, sponsors … ?
All of the above.
We certainly want to engage the community in a more deliberate way. The good thing is that we have a good foundation to build on. We have more than 600,000 members. So we want to enhance the level of participation that we have.
Certainly, again, we want to create alliances with local communities. We want to connect to other movements to really build strong coalitions. Whether we go to the ballot or whether we want to pass legislation like the FAIR Act, the fact is that we have a majority in the state of California that is for equality. Given that our community is so diverse and that we literally represent every single group in California in terms of ethnicity, gender identity, being multi-lingual, what we do really has an impact on so many other communities.
As our readers are reading this story in San Diego, what can you tell them about how they can get involved?
We want to engage San Diegans in issues that matter to them – that matter to them in a local way, but also a state way. One of the reasons why I have come to San Diego is to meet the leadership, and to also get more informed about what the issues are.
We want San Diegans to understand the impact of what we do. We want to do a much better job to make the connection between their quality of life in San Diego and the work that we do in Sacramento. I think that once the LGBT community in San Diego has that understanding, then we would be able to get a lot more support for our advocacy, legislative and electoral agenda.
For more information about Equality California, log on to eqca.org.
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