After Shaky Couple Of Years, Equality California Has Stabilized Under New Executive Director

Johno'connorEquality California (EQCA) has had a difficult time getting on its feet. Longtime executive director Geoff Kors left in March 2011, was replaced by Roland Palencia (who quickly stepped down after only three months), and spent a year without leadership. When current exec. director John O'Connor (right) arrived last December, the organization's financial situation was less than stellar and several staff members had been let go. Now, though, O'Connor says that EQCA is back in shape and ready to make a difference, urged on by the Supreme Court's Prop 8 and DOMA decisions this summer.

The Bay Area Reporter writes:

Asked what the biggest challenge during his first year at EQCA has been, O'Connor laughed and said, "All of it."

After some consideration, he said, "Revitalizing an organization that had been through so much upheaval at a time when the LGBT movement for equality was shifting so dramatically was very complicated, and identifying strategies for doing that was the most challenging thing. That includes getting people's financial and political support behind what was happening, inspiring a staff to work as hard as they needed to work to make this possible, instilling confidence in elected officials once again, and instilling confidence in the press."

O'Connor, 42, whose salary is $150,000, said EQCA has successfully been rebuilt. The organization is "resolvent," its "reputation is dramatically improved," and "our visibility is dramatically improved across the state, particularly in Sacramento."

However, he said, "We're not done. It will be a multi-year project of re-staffing, re-stabilizing" and other work.

EQCA is making efforts to reconnect with other LGBT-related organizations throughout the Golden State, including the Transgender Law Center and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. It has also increased its budget by $500,000 for the 2014 fiscal year and currently employs 43 paid staff. All of these improvements do not mean that the fight to maintain relevance and importance in a post-Prop 8 state is not real.

"Continuing to articulate the urgency of the work," is the biggest challenge ahead, said O'Connor. Even though California now has marriage equality, more remains to be done, including in areas like health care, cultural competency in nursing homes and other settings, transgender equality, and safe schools. 


  1. Merv says

    What exactly have they done to justify their existence? Is it their record of losing ballot propositions and having their leadership go on long overseas vacations in the middle of the campaign?

  2. JamesInCA says

    43 paid staff? What on earth for?

    If there is a clearer example of institutional inertia perpetuating itself for the sake of institutional inertia, I can’t think of it.

    Close the doors, turn out the lights, and go home. Give the remaining funds and assets to the other groups named here, or others working on these efforts.

  3. Mike says


    “We ran out of issues that gay people care about, so now we are desperately trying to come up with ways to perpetuate the existence of this organization. We are incompetent, and there is no other place where we can get paid as much as we have been raking in here. So now we’ll push “cultural competency in nursing homes” and crossdresser bathroom access as our top priorities. Surely the money will roll in!”

  4. LivefromUtica says

    EQCA faces the same dilemma as was faced by New York’s ESPA after marriage was passed in 2011: how to justify an expensive budget and high salaries after all major gay rights objectives have been achieved.

    Sadly, EQCA is making the same fatal error as ESPA. ESPA decided to refocus on “transgender” rights along with a few minor budgetary items. And it expected gay people (no money is ever forthcoming from transgenders) to fund it at the same levels as when it was working on important gay rights legislation. The organization has almost certainly gone into steep decline. It has been desperate to delay its 2012 IRS disclosure for as long as possible because it knows what it will show. EQCA will certainly go into the same downward spiral over the next year or 2.

    The bottom line is that there is no reason to fund these groups at their previous high levels in order for them to pursue a few narrow issues like single budget items or cultural competence in nursing homes. As for trans issues, that has little or nothing to do with LGBs and we should give exactly as much money to those issues as trans activists have given for our issues, i.e., $0.

    The right path for these groups is either to continue at a fraction of their current size to deal with the few legitimate narrow issues OR to make a major refocus on one of their neighboring states. Gay people in Oregon, Idaho or Arizona could use help from CA. And on the East Coast, ESPA could make it a major goal to help gay rights in Pennsylvania. That would justify their continued existence.

  5. oncemorewithfeeling says

    EQCA told everyone to stand back in 2008, saying it was their role and theirs alone to defeat Prop 8.

    They then sat on their hands during the entire election as the Mormons lied and lied and lied, even though the entire community screamed at them to take action and countless people offered a flood of suggestions and numerous outreach strategies that would insure the defeat of the measure by simply telling all the voters the truth, which EQCA refused to do. Because of them, a ballot measure that was easily losing by a clear majority in the Spring became a ballot measure that barely won with a tiny majority of voters in the Fall.

    The only thing they accomplished during the entire election was to create a website that required you to click through literally six pages before the website ever told you what the website was even about.

    They did accomplish a great deal of good once, but this one failure was monumental and unforgiveable. It will be a cold day in the fictional hell before EQCA ever gets a cent of my money or a second of my support.

  6. oncemorewithfeeling says

    And I only now read some of the other comments. The trans hate is just bizarre, boys. It makes you look like an idiot, so you might want to knock that off, just to keep people guessing whether you’re actually an idiot or not.

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