U.S. Congress member Maxine Waters and Los Angeles Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell were among a group of luminaries honored on Saturday at the 2018 Hero Awards, presented by Stonewall Young Democrats. Waters received the Lifetime Achievement Award, while O’Farrell was chosen as Elected Official of the Year in a garden-party, end-of-summer ceremony in Brentwood. Other award recipients at Saturday’s event included Los Angeles Community College District Trustee Andra Hoffman, Dr. Paul Song and journalist Lisa Ling, and Stonewall Young Democrats Vice President Tanner Brown.
Waters needed no introduction. During her 28 years in Congress, her brand of no-nonsense politics and spirited advocacy for the economic and social equality of women and people of color has been lauded by progressives both within her South Los Angeles district and across the nation. Today, Waters is widely considered one of the most powerful women in America.
Waters has also been a torchbearer in the fight for LGBTQ rights for decades. During the HIV/AIDS crisis, she organized a hearing of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the epidemic. Waters and California Rep. Mervyn Dymally were the only members to show up, leaving them as “the two people standing up on behalf of our community in Washington” during the epidemic. Waters also voted against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages, until it was largely struck down by United States v. Windsor in 2013. Now, Waters is the leading voice for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Waters spoke to the Los Angeles Blade about how she would protect LGBTQ individuals against a potential Pence presidency if the impeachment of Trump was successful.
“I am not dismissive of the argument that says Pence could be worse,” Waters said. “I truly believe that people see Trump and Pence as part of an Administration that has been divisive and who needs to be gotten rid of. So if we get rid of Trump, I think we can knock out Pence easily…I think, in many ways, he comes with the package, and I don’t think people are going to see him in such a great light. I think people are going to be more emboldened to get rid of him once we get rid of Trump.”
During her comments to Stonewall Young Democrats, Waters doubled down on her call for impeachment, despite Democratic leaderships wariness on the subject. Trump “is responsible for the kind of division coming back that we thought we had cured a long time ago,” she said. “If you cannot talk about impeachment given what we have learned about him and the way that he’s defined himself, then impeachment means nothing.”
Waters also alluded to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s apology to Brett Kavanaugh for the interruption of his confirmation hearing by protestors. “We don’t ask permission to protest. We protest when we understand that we have to make America hear us and see us and understand that we all have something to say,” Waters said. She added that she comes “from the school of those who use protest to move America forward and to change this country, and I’m proud of that.”
Waters also discussed the LGBTQ community’s role in moving America forward. “I don’t know if you understand how you have changed America and helped so many people change their thinking,” she said. “I’m so very proud of the grandmothers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles and all of those who are different people now because of you…You should take credit for the work that you’re doing to help bring about justice and equality for the LGBTQ community.”
Concluding her speech to a standing ovation, Waters asserted: “We cannot be intimidated, we cannot be made to fear anybody who would undermine our ability to have a decent quality of life. You have shown us that, LGBTQ community.”
Mitch O’Farrell is part of a vanguard of that equality, having served as a LA City Councilmember for the past five years. He is one of the first openly gay city officials in LA history. “The 13th District has significant LGBTQ cultural assets and history. I came into this position in 2013 knowing all of that,” said O’Farrell.
The Councilmember alluded to this history, referencing the establishment of the first LGBT organization in the world, the sparking of the LGBTQ rights movement at the Black Cat protest, and the first Pride parade in America – all of which happened in his Hollywood-Silver Lake district. “I have quite a responsibility representing the 13th being an openly gay man, don’t I?” he joked to the appreciative audience.
The Councilmember spoke to the LA Blade about a new landmark achievement. His office is “creating mandatory job training, in-person and online, for all City employees for transgender sensitivity,” he said. “We will be the first municipality in the United States to do this.” The legislation includes public-facing employees such as police officers and firefighters, and could go into effect as early as this year.
O’Farrell has also collaborated with the city’s Transgender Advisory Council to fight issues affecting the transgender community; showcased a timeline of local LGBTQ history with the Los Angeles Public Library and the ONE Archives; condemned human rights violations against LGBTQ people in Russia; and funded various LGBTQ youth and homeless organizations within his district.
O’Farrell emphasized the importance of intersectionality through his working with faith leaders in fighting the divisiveness of the current Administration. “When one group is oppressed by a tyrant with red hair in the White House, then all of us are oppressed,” he said.
LACCD Trustee Andra Hoffman was awarded the Stonewall Young Democrats’ Trailblazer Award. Hoffman has served as a Trustee since 2015, and was elected Vice President of the Board earlier this year, improving access to higher education as a director at Glendale Community College. Hoffman has also been at the forefront of helping undocumented students through AB 540 and fighting for the enactment of the California Dream Act. She also chairs the LACCD Sexual Harassment/Title IX Task Force and continues to mentor and support young women and girls in the San Fernando Valley.
“Standing up to a bully is nothing short of me trying to do the best I can do as an elected official representing 5 million people,” she said. “On the Board level, if we don’t treat each other with civility and respect and try to move forward our agenda to try to help others attain an education and get a good job, then we’re not doing our jobs. So standing up to a bully was not something I expected to get an award for. I don’t really think of myself as a trailblazer, I think of myself as someone who’s passionate and who cares about others.”
Husband and wife duo Dr. Paul Song and Lisa Ling were awarded the Allies in Equality Award. Song has been a tireless advocate for universal healthcare and social justice for all people for nearly twenty years. Lisa Ling has a respected journalism career and currently serves as executive producer and host of CNN’s This is Life with Lisa Ling.
California State Controller Betty Yee described Ling, who was unable to attend the ceremony, as “someone unafraid to explore worlds and realities for people living in the shadows, that help deepen our understanding of what their experiences are.”
Dr. Song described his experiences in medical school in the midst of the HIV/AIDS crisis as the catalyst for his fight for LGBTQ rights. “You couldn’t help but notice the toll that this disease was taking on a certain population in our society. But more importantly, you couldn’t ignore the love that you saw between the people that were suffering the disease and their committed partners,” he said.
Song and Ling moved to California in the midst of the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 battle in 2008. Prop 8 surprised the couple because it was occurring “in a state that we thought was the most progressive state in the country.” Song subsequently joined the Courage Campaign in its fight against Prop 8—a grassroots organization he later headed. Ling’s important report about so-called “conversion therapy” led to the shutdown of a prominent anti-gay organization.
Song lauded the role of the LGBTQ community in the enactment of social change. “Just as there was a sea change with marriage equality, you see it happening now with Medicare-for-all. I would encourage every one of you to keep up the fight,” he said.
The Michael Colorge Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Stonewall Young Democrats Community Vice President Tanner Brown. In addition to working with SYD, Brown also advocates for fair housing initiatives for LGBTQ individuals, including HR 1447, which would amend the federal Fair Housing Act to prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.