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John O'Connor, Director, The New Equality California

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John O'Connor is the New Executive director of Equality California. Equality California (eaca)  is the largest lgbt advocacy group in California and the United States. John O'Connor is a seasoned executive with extensive management, fundraising, strategy and advocacy experience in dynamic foundation, corporate and nonprofit organizations. With over 15 years in cause-related work and a strong record of accomplishment, O'Connor is an excellent choice to lead Equality California into its next chapter. John O'Connor is a graduate of Georgetown University.

John O’Connor’s experience includes program director for the David Geffen Foundation, national director with the Gill Foundation, and working with former first lady Maria Shriver at the California Museum.

John O'Conner  disicusses his vision for Equality California and the fight for LGBT equality in 2013.   



0:05 Toni Newman

Good morning! We will be talking with John O'Connor, the new executive director of Equality California. Their website is eqca.org and we will be talking live right now. Hello?

0:21 John O'Connor

Hey, Toni!

0:24 Toni Newman

Good afternoon! Everyone we have John O'Connor here today. The show has been sponsored by BM today and SPI productions, so I want to thank both of those for sponsoring the show and paying for the advertising and the publicities to promote the show. So special thanks to IBM and to SPI productions. We have John O'Connor today who is the new executive director at Equality California. That is the largest LGBT advocacy group in California and the United States. Welcome, John!

0:59 John O'Connor

Hey Toni! It's a pleasure to be here.

1:03 Toni Newman

John, you are the new director and plus and foremost we want to ask you before we get into the EQCA business, what is your background John before you came to Equality California? Could you tell us a little bit about the background and how you got to EQCA?

1:20 John O'Connor

Sure. I would be happy to. And in terms of being new, I am not so new anymore, it's been about eight months now but it still feels very new and before I was here I was -- immediately before I was here, I was running the LGBT Community Center at the desert, which is in Palm Springs, California and I had been out there for several years expanding the programming of that organization and restructuring that organization and bringing up the finances of that organization and we had a lot of success and I had an amazing fulfilling time doing it. The rest of my background includes several other positions that were state-wide or national in nature, but this was the first time I had worked on the community level, where I got to directly interact with the real people who were being served by the work of the LGBT Equality Movement and I got inspired, I saw how people's lives were positively impacted by services like anti-bullying program it's like a transgender outreach program in the community, like culturally competent LGBT mental health counseling, like outreach to our seniors to bring them out of isolation and I realized that the work we do in we the larger movement, people like you, like me, like all of the people that worked here at Equality California, it actually saves people's lives and at the very least people enriches it.

2:56 Toni Newman

Very good. John, my next question is as the executive director, what is your core purpose for mission? If you had to put it in the centered or two what would be your core purpose or mission at Equality California now as the director for the last eight months?

3:13 John O'Connor

Sure. So our mission is simply stated as full equality and nothing less and that's the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality. We advanced that mission to powerful legislated advocacy to public education efforts in the field and it's all across the state of California and through a candidate pack that helps elect 100% pro-equality candidates to state-wide office.

3:48 Toni Newman

Now, John, you have partners with Mason Davies and the transgender law center to co-sponsor especially transgender bill. Why is that important to you and to the EQCA family?

4:05 John O'Connor

Well Toni, so you know, the T in LGBT is very much a part of our mission and some of the trans-specific issues have been not dealt with this properly as some of the broader community wide issues so Equality California has always been very good at including the T in all of the LGBT protections we've had, but now we're at our time where we're looking at what the trans-specific things are and we've started work in terms of insurance regulations, inclusion of trans people and specific health needs there is good and important work, and collaborating with the transgender law center gives us an opportunity to work side by side which real experts directly represent the transgender portion of our larger LGBT community and the bills are very important. One of them will make it easier for transgender people to go through the name change process, which is incredibly important in terms of economic justice but it's also important in terms of dignity. So that transgender people can take care of the many things we need to take care of to live of their authentic selves and by removing this barrier we're one step closer. One small step, put ones more important stuff. AB 1266...

5:33 Toni Newman

My next question goes right there, that was it.

5:35 John O'Connor


5:37 Toni Newman

That was it.

5:39 John O'Connor

Toni, cool. AB 1266 hit the governor's desk yesterday. He now has 12 days to sign the bill and we are pulling out all stuffs advocating that the governor sign this bill and I am very hopeful that you will by the way, but now is the time to have our voices heard and that's why have justice in organization to advocate for protections for all of our community and now is the opportunity for everybody in our community to get involve to call the governor's office to send an email. This bill when it's put into law will expands nondiscrimination protection as described in the education code to specifically make clear that transgender students are allowed to participant in all aspects of their education -- according to their gender identity and alignment with their gender identity. So this means a transgender boy can play sports with other boys. He can go on extracurricular activities with other boys. Can use the boys' restroom, can play in gym class can get their P.E. credit by participating as a boy and many other things that is important to the young person's dignity, as well as being side by side with peers of their gender and have that full educational experience that many missed out on because that law is not as clear as it will be once we passed this recent legislation. So it's really important because not only as an addressing a disparity for transgender people but for transgender youth to amongst the most honorable in our community.

7:28 Toni Newman

Now that we have marriage and DOMA has been overturn and we celebrate it, what do you see as the future of Equality California and let's speak to the Californians of why they should continue to support and donate and volunteer and pledge to Equality California?

7:48 John O'Connor

Well, you know marriage was a very long time incoming and became a center piece of our movement for equality and marriage is very important to think about the young people born today who when they're growing up we'll see same sex couples married, their relationships treated with equal dignity as heterosexual couples, the effect that that will have on those young people, particularly if they happen to be LGBT themselves to know and not doomed to a life of isolation or violence or discrimination, here are some role models that will absolutely shape their view and perception of the world and it will have a profound impact. So marriage is very important but it's also very important that we've got it out of the way because there are so much more other important work. An epidemic of bullying and youth suicide is as pressing it is not more pressing than the freedom to marriage. Protecting our transgender people and advancing a trans-specific legislative agenda is enormously important and our work is definitely not done until that's complete. Taking care of our seniors, some of whom elect to go back in the closet when they enter nursing homes because they fear harassment and discrimination and possibly even violence, it's outrageous that this is still happening but it is. So the list of work for us to do is very long it includes immigration, comprehensive immigration policy reforms that are inclusive of LGBT people and the entire arena of health and healthcare. Making sure that in the data collection, LGBT people are counted. Making sure in the millions and nothing but millions of dollars budget allocations that LGBT health disparities are targeted and cultural competency for all LGBT people so that when we go to the doctor we are not embarrassed or humiliated or coming face-to-face with hostility. How many care providers who has no competency in terms of what the need of perhaps the gay men or perhaps the transgender person is? So there's lots of work still to be done.

10:04 Toni Newman

Now, we have a lot of supporters and let's speak to why should they continue to support EQCA? How can they support EQCA in 2013? And let's give them informational how can become involved with what EQCA is doing to keep it moving forward to do good LGBT work.

10:25 John O'Connor

Great, thank you. Well, you know, the why of it is if you believe in any of those things I just talked about it, if you believe in that agenda that I just spoke about, those are the things we're working on now and then to the future and people can get involved and they can support us financial contributions of course are what keeps this engine going. And we always are in need of money to pay our bills, to pay our stuff who are doing this good and important work, but people can also volunteer, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Los Angeles West Hollywood area, the Palm Springs area, we definitely have opportunities for volunteers to get involved and if you jump on our website, eqca.org you can check out the organization a little bit more and they can contact there, you can make a donation there, you can read up on the bills that we're currently working on and you can seek out opportunities to be an advocate so that when a bill like AB 1266 is going to the governor's deck you can click through and send the governor an email or tweet on your Twitter account to the governor how important this bill is, and making sure you're signed up for our lists and liking our page on Facebook. Those are definitely important ways to stay in touch and get involved.

11:50 Toni Newman

We want to thank John O'Connor for coming today and speaking with us and to let everyone know. To find more information about Equality California to donate, to volunteer, to inquire, whatever your desire is you can do that at eqca.org and find out more about what Equality California stands for. We want to thank John for coming. I appreciated it greatly and John, have a great weekend.

12:19 John O'Connor

Thank you, Toni, you too. Keep up the really good work.

12:23 Toni Newman


12:24 John O'Connor