January 8, 2019 at 9:03 pm PST | by Karen Ocamb
Ricardo Lara makes history as first openly LGBT person elected statewide in California

New California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara addresses supporters (Photo by Equality California Communications Director Samuel Garrett-Pate.)

It was windy and pouring the night before Ricardo Lara made history; “Hurricane Sacramento” some called it. But by noon on Jan 7, the sky had cleared, the air was full of change and somewhere a rainbow beamed over California as the son of Mexican immigrants was sworn in as the 8th Insurance Commissioner and the first LGBT person elected statewide in the state of California.

In his remarks, Lara stressed that being gay wasn’t just a reference, one characteristic that happened to be part of his character. Being an out gay Latino is a central fact of his existence, an experiential lens through which he sees the world, understands policy and celebrates symbolism—such as having out gay former District Judge Vaughn Walker, who ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional, preside over his swearing-in on a copy of California’s first Constitution in its original 1849 Spanish translation.

New Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara thanks former District Judge Vaughn Walker (photo via Michael Soller)

The arc of the moral universe felt like it was bending toward justice.
“Thank you for insisting that our laws be based on evidence, and not prejudice. Your ruling on marriage equality showed that the wisdom of our Constitution is greater than the sum of our fears,” the new Commissioner told the judge.
Lara then opened his inaugural comments by acknowledging the importance of the moment.

“A people’s progress is often measured by thresholds crossed. In the nearly 170 years of California’s history, hundreds of men and women have been elected to serve in statewide constitutional office. Until now, not one was openly gay,” Lara said.

“I am standing before you, but I am surrounded by the spirit of those bold, unapologetic, and courageous people who protested and ultimately gave their lives so that we could live proudly. Today has been in the making for generations,” the new Commissioner said.

“From the thousands sent to concentration camps in Nazi Germany to the uprisings at the Black Cat in Los Angeles and the Stonewall Inn in New York to the queer Dreamers paving the way for our immigrant communities. To my LGBTQ+ community, my parents and my family, my great teachers and professors, my extraordinary staff — past and present — and my lifelong support system,” Lara said. “Today we shattered the pink ceiling!”

But Lara said he didn’t run for the statewide office to make history. “I ran to make a difference in the lives of millions of Californians.”

California’s Department of Insurance, Lara noted, is the largest and most important state consumer protection agency in America. “At a time of historic disparity, when the rich get richer and corporate elite get all the advantages, it is more urgent than ever that government work for all of us,” Lara said. “I have made it my life’s work to ensure Californians can live their lives openly, safely, and affordably. Free of fear, prejudice or injustice.”

As the “proud son” of working-class Mexican parents “who – sustained by one dream but no documents – braved a border to pursue a better life,” Lara championed undocumented immigrants, including authoring a bill as state senator in 2015 that extended Medi-Cal to undocumented children. “After all, I know what it is to live in the shadows. Concealing my own orientation to even my own family and closest friends,” he said.

“We are the Department of Fair Deals, the Department of Fresh Starts, the Department of Rebuilding Your Home, the Department of Protecting your Investment, and the Department of the Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow,” said Lara. “In short, we are the Department of Hope, and we have never been more important.”

Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur at Lara’s swearing in (photo via Facebook)

Equality California hosted a reception for about 400 people to celebrate Lara’s life and career as an LGBTQ trailblazer from East LA, said EQCA Communications Director Samuel Garrett-Pate. “There were drag queens throughout the club mingling with guests, the featured cocktail was a ‘Pink Triangle,’” and the food was a spin on LA street vendor classics.

Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur congratulated his friend and addressed “identity politics,” which conservatives have disparaged as an “issue.”

“’Identity politics’ is not a dirty phrase or a political liability,” Zbur said. “It is, rather, the literal definition of representative democracy to elect leaders who represent all of us and our diverse identities, backgrounds and stories.”

Zbur then celebrated the identities of California’s top elected officials. “Today is for the gay boy in East Los Angeles, the son of immigrants — a factory worker and a seamstress — sharing a king-sized bed with his four siblings and fearing that his parents might be taken away from him one day. [Lara],” he said.

“Today is for the young girl whose father told her stories of his small Greek village being invaded by Nazis, who then occupied his modest childhood home. [Lt Gov. Eleni Kounalakis],” Zbur said. “Today is for the boy with dyslexia, struggling to read and write, whose mom works three jobs to support him and his sister. [Gov. Gavin Newsom]

“Today is for the daughters of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco and New York [State Controller Betty Yee and Treasurer Fiona Ma], for the sons of Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles and Sacramento [Sec. of State Alex Padilla and Attorney Gen. Xavier Becerra] and for the son of a single mother, a schoolteacher from Panama [Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond].”

In fact, California, the most populous state in the union, is now run by minorities with Gov. Gavin Newsom the only white man holding a statewide constitutional office.

Ricardo Lara being sworn in (Photo by Equality California Communications Director Samuel Garrett-Pate.

Transcript of INSURANCE COMMISSIONER RICARDO LARA INAUGURAL ADDRESS (prepared for delivery) Jan. 7, 2019

Senator Art Torres — you have been here every step on California’s march toward justice for all. Thank you for leading us today.

Senator Holly Mitchell — I am so lucky to call you my friend, my sister, my partner in equity and justice.

Secretary Erika Contreras — you are a trailblazer. No words can describe my gratitude and admiration for you.

Stuart Milk — There is no doubt that your uncle is here with us today. Thank you for continuing his fearless work for equality.

Rick Zbur — thank you for your advocacy for all those LGBTQ+ Californians who deserve the protection of our laws.

Judge Walker — your presence today is an honor for me and for the thousands of families who can live in love and legally since your decision. Thank you for insisting that our laws be based on evidence, and not prejudice. Your ruling on marriage equality showed that the wisdom of our Constitution is greater than the sum of our fears.

Commissioner Jones — thank you for your courage and commitment to the people of our great state and for being a fierce advocate for California consumers.

My friends, mi familia, and all of my esteemed colleagues from the Legislature — thank you for being here today.

My fellow Californians:

A people’s progress is often measured by thresholds crossed. In the nearly 170 years of California’s history, hundreds of men and women have been elected to serve in statewide constitutional office.

Until now, not one was openly gay.

As I cross this threshold, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all those who have made this possible.

I am standing before you, but I am surrounded by the spirit of those bold, unapologetic, and courageous people who protested and ultimately gave their lives so that we could live proudly.

Today has been in the making for generations.

From the thousands sent to concentration camps in Nazi Germany to the uprisings at the Black Cat in Los Angeles and the Stonewall Inn in New York to the queer Dreamers paving the way for our immigrant communities.

To my LGBTQ+ community, my parents and my family, my great teachers and professors, my extraordinary staff — past and present — and my lifelong support system.

Today we shattered the pink ceiling!

Because of you, this door is opened forever.

It is the privilege of a lifetime. And I thank you.

But I didn’t run for this office to make history.

I ran to make a difference in the lives of millions of Californians.

California’s Department of Insurance is the largest and most important state consumer protection agency in America.

We are the Department of Fair Deals, the Department of Fresh Starts, the Department of Rebuilding Your Home, the Department of Protecting Your Investment, the Department of the Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.

In short, we are the Department of Hope.

And we have never been more important.

Because — despite our state’s economic prowess — a majority of Californians remain financially insecure.

People are working harder for less.

And the rising cost of living is pricing out our middle class.

At a time of historic disparity, when the rich get richer and corporate elite get all the advantages, it is more urgent than ever that government work for all of us.

I have made it my life’s work to ensure Californians can live their lives openly, safely, and affordably.

Free of fear, prejudice or injustice.

I am the proud son of two working-class parents born in Mexico – who – sustained by one dream but no documents – braved a border to pursue a better life.

After all, I know what it is to live in the shadows. Concealing my own orientation to even my own family and closest friends.

My father was a factory worker. My mother a seamstress. They believed in the California Dream.

They worked back-to-back shifts so I could become the first child in my family to ever graduate from high school and attend college.

At San Diego State, I didn’t just come out of the closet, I came out ready to fight.

I found my voice.

And I dedicated myself to the enduring principle that California must always be a beacon of opportunity, where everyone can find a place to belong.

Here, we can embrace our differences and measure our achievements not by where you come from but by where we are going.

I was blessed to serve under leaders who were not content following others – they were determined to blaze their own trail.

It is no accident that I took the oath today on a replica of the original California Constitution, which was adopted 170 years ago — in Spanish.

Our founders insisted that the laws be written in English and Spanish, starting with the Constitution.

For our first 30 years, we were a bilingual state, bound together as Californians by a shared history.

Así que…bienvenidos a California!

But we have battled division and exclusion for our entire history.

Today, we are living proof that California is stronger when we stand together.

We are proof that love is stronger than hate.

It is what brought my parents to California and what drives us all forward.

People have always come to California, drawn by its promise and bounty.

This promise of opportunity is not guaranteed, however. Our leaders are guardians of this opportunity.

Our seniors, people living in poverty, and immigrant communities are targets of con artists and scams.

Our entrepreneurs face economic uncertainty.

Millions of us live one emergency room visit away from financial ruin.

We cannot deny that with climate change, California faces a threat like never before.

Just ask the Paradise High School class of 2019, who go back to school tomorrow in temporary classrooms.

Ask the Garfield High School class of 2019, in East L.A. where I was born and raised, who continue to deal with some of the nation’s worst air pollution.

When I started my campaign for Insurance Commissioner, I pledged to help lead this fight.

But I cannot do it alone.

To the staff of the California Department of Insurance — we will roll up our sleeves to do more than ever before for the people of California.

I have been in your shoes as a legislative staffer so your long hours and dedication to the people of California are not lost on me.

I know elected representatives depend on the hard work of our staff.

Together we will be the problem solvers, the crisis experts, the consumer champions.

To my law enforcement division and partners — I want to be unequivocal. We will use every resource to crack down on fraud, which continues to cost consumers and businesses millions of dollars.

To our seniors cheated out of their retirement savings.

To people in recovery from addiction.

To immigrant victims of auto-fraud rings.

To the insurance industry — I ask you to join me in this fight against extreme disasters linked to climate change.

We need bold action to ensure our communities adapt and are resilient to this new reality.

There is no other industry that has the necessary expertise to ensure that California is prepared to mitigate and reduce risk to our communities and environment.

Our planet can’t wait. I’m ready, and I hope you are too.

Today I am announcing the creation of the Deputy Insurance Commissioner of Climate and Sustainability — a first for the Department — to work with our environmental and industry leaders to bring innovative solutions to market — like only California can.

Like climate change, technology is touching every aspect of our lives.
We need to embrace new technology to improve access, affordability, and privacy, while promoting creativity and allowing innovation to transform the industry.

I will organize the Department to keep California at the forefront of the discussion on technology, and make sure we maintain our lead in the race for innovation.

To Governor Newsom — I am excited to be your partner in expanding affordable healthcare for every Californian. There is nothing we cannot achieve with our new common agenda.

You are keeping your commitment on single payer. Together we will take on the cost crisis including prescription drug prices. And under your leadership, I am ready to build on our efforts and commitment to Health4All.

We stand ready for your California4All vision.

To my friends and colleagues in the Legislature, Senator Susan Rubio and Assemblymember Tom Daly, our Insurance Committee chairs — I value and honor your role in this deliberative process. I look forward to working with you to deliver on our promise to California.

If there was no more pressing reminder of my duty, I reflect on the devastating loss suffered by communities due to wildfires, mudslides and other catastrophic events.

I commit to you that I will work tirelessly to ensure that we have a system in place that helps you restore, rebuild, and renew your lives and communities.

I have a Department comprised of committed professionals and public servants who believe in our mission.

They believe insurance is about more than safety and security. It is about giving people hope.

Hope that if disaster happens, you can rebuild your home on solid ground.

Hope that you will stay healthy to work and watch your family grow.

Hope that businesses will continue to invest in our state and thrive.

That is why I say we are the Department of Hope.

Hope is what binds us.

For me, in my darkest hours — when I was filled with self-doubt and fear — what kept me going was that promise, the hope, of something better.

That is why I am able to stand here before you today as California’s 8th Insurance Commissioner.

Today is dedicated to the promise that no matter what circumstance you are in — it can get better.

To that child who felt different growing up and uncomfortable in your own skin — you can achieve your dreams.

To the boy like me who always wanted to play with the Easy-Bake oven — you know who you are.

To the girl who questions herself and the queer youth who does not want to fit in any box — you are perfect the way you are.

This isn’t my promise, this is California’s promise.

And it is one I intend to keep.

Thank you.

 

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