The California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus

Working Towards Change in the Golden State

Newspaper article about LGBTQ Caucus founding and news release about the formation of the Caucus (2002) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

In 2002, six trailblazing state legislators began a new chapter of history when they organized to become the California Legislative LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Caucus, the very first official state caucus dedicated to the LGBTQ community in the United States. Assembly Members Sheila Kuehl, Carole Migden, Christine Kehoe, Jackie Goldberg, Mark Leno, and John Laird formed the Caucus to advance legislation for the rights and needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals in California.

LGBTQ communities in the United States and California have long endured discrimination – having regularly been denigrated, criminalized, and denied their basic human rights in both the public and private spheres, aware of the societal and personal consequences of being true to who they are. But within their history are also stories of resilience and their striving for visibility, fair treatment, and equality. Since its inception, the LGBTQ Caucus (the “Q” for “Queer” was added in 2019) and its members have worked to bring change and create meaningful legislation for California. This exhibit will explore the history, challenges, and landmarks of the LGBTQ Caucus.

A Pride Flag designed by Equality California (2019) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

LGBT History in California and the United States

Gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, and gender nonconforming individuals were branded as immoral, mentally-ill, and dangerous by governing bodies and society at large in the United States for much of the 20th Century and before. The first gay hate crime recorded in the U.S. took place in Florida in 1566, when a French man accused of sodomy was executed by a group of Spaniards. Soon after, the Virginia Colony outlawed homosexuality under penalty of death in the early 17th century.*

In the 20th Century, laws targeting the LGBT community included federal and state legislation against homosexual relations, gay marriage, bans on gay and lesbians holding positions in workplaces and the military, and prohibitions on cross-dressing, to name a few. Exhibiting traits that deviated from societal expectations of perceived gender and heterosexuality often carried harmful lifelong or deadly consequences.*

During the McCarthy Era “Lavender Scare” in the middle of the 20th Century, the federal government sought to systematically remove LGBT individuals from military service and state and federal employment. Thousands lost their jobs and many more lived under constant fear of losing everything if their sexual orientation was discovered.*

By 1950, one of the first gay activist groups in the nation - and the first in California - the Machettine Society, was founded in Los Angeles. In 1955, the first lesbian activist group, Daughters of Bilitis also formed. The late 1960’s saw the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City, the first demonstration of mass protest by the LGBT communities in the U.S., widely recognized as the catalyst of the LGBTQ civil rights movement that would soon pick up steam on the West Coast.

Biography panel for Harvey Milk and a letter from the Department of the Navy to the LGBTQ Caucus (2012) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

A decade after the Stonewall Rebellion, Harvey Milk broke ground on the West Coast when he won election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors of 1977 – the first time an openly gay individual was elected to public office in California, and one of the first instances in the nation. Milk was an activist and leader for the LGBT community, who spent the last decade of his life working towards social justice and urging the gay community to come out of hiding and embrace their identity. Earlier in his life, Milk was not involved in activism or politics. He served in the Navy and worked a variety of careers on the East Coast, including teaching, finance, and Broadway production. His engagement with the LGBT Movement would not surface until he moved to San Francisco’s Castro District in 1972.

After two unsuccessful campaigns, Harvey Milk was finally elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. While in office, Milk passed a city ordinance that prohibited discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation. Milk also championed a campaign that defeated the Briggs Initiative (California Prop. 6) of 1978, a law which would have banned LGBT people from teaching in public schools in the state. Tragically, later that same year, Milk was assassinated in office alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by political rival Dan White. Publicly mourned by crowds of supporters for days afterwards, Milk soon became an icon of the gay civil rights movement in California and the United States. His life’s work opened the door for other gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals to serve in public office.

Years later, the California Legislative LGBT Caucus would continue to honor Milk’s life through ceremony, celebration, and legislation from its formation onwards. Caucus member Mark Leno authored the legislation for Harvey Milk Day (SB 572 of 2009), which appointed Milk’s birthday on May 22nd to a state-recognized holiday.

Pictured on the left are a letter from the LGBT Caucus addressed to Captain, U.S. Navy Special Assistant for Public Affairs to the Secretary of the Navy, Pamela S. Kunze asking for a ship to be named in Milk’s honor and a detail of Harvey Milk’s bio panel from a past LGBT Caucus Pride Month program.

California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus formation photograph and records (2002) by California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus and 2007California State Archives

The Early Years of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus 

Sheila Kuehl, Carole Migden, Christine Kehoe, and Jackie Goldberg were the first four openly lesbian or gay individuals to join the California State Legislature. In 2002, Mark Leno and John Laird became the first two openly gay men to join, bringing the number of LGBT legislators to six. According to the San Diego-Union Tribune, Christine Kehoe sensed it was time to harness the power of their growing number. That same year, she formally requested for State Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson to form the LGBT Caucus in the California Legislature. This was the first time in the nation that a state-sanctioned body of legislators focused on LGBT issues was formed.

Pictured on the left is a formal portrait that includes all six founding California Legislative LGBT Caucus members, a draft letter from Speaker of the Assembly Herb J. Wesson formally approving the formation of the Legislative LGBT Caucus, a letter from Mark Leno to Chair Christine Kehoe on the initial hiring of staff for the Caucus, and a California Legislative LGBT Caucus Welcome Reception program cover.

Biography panel for Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (2010) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

Almost two decades after Harvey Milk was elected to public office and nearly a decade before the LGBTQ Caucus formed, Sheila Kuehl took another step for the LGBT community when she became the first openly lesbian or gay member of the California Legislature in 1994. A graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School, Kuehl worked as a civil rights attorney and professor of law before running for public office. In her early careers, she advocated for the marginalized, fought for LGBT-focused legislation, and co-founded the California Women’s Law Center. Earlier in her life, she had gained public recognition for her portrayal of Zelda Gilroy in the television sitcom “The Many Loves of Doby Gillis” that ran from 1959 to 1963.

Elected to the State Assembly to represent the 41st district, Kuehl represented the Los Angeles and Ventura counties. She was the first woman and first lesbian to be elected to Speaker pro Tempore of the State Assembly during the 1997-1998 legislative session. After finishing her last term in the Assembly in 2000, she was elected to the State Senate representing the 23rd District where she would serve for eight more years. She currently serves as a Los Angeles County Supervisor for District 3.

In 2002, Kuehl became a founding member of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus. During the course of her legislative career, Kuehl served as Chair on the Assembly Judiciary Committee, the Senate Health Committee, the Senate Budget Committee on Water, Energy, and Transportation, and the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee.

Senator Kuehl commenting on her AB 537 during an interview (2001-04-17) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

During her six years in the State Assembly and eight years in the State Senate, Kuehl authored over 170 bills that became law. Much of her lawmaking focused on the rights of women and the LGBT community, health care, and protecting children in public schools and the foster care system.

As an early legislative priority, Kuehl fought for several years to prevent discrimination based on students’ sexual orientation from public schools and programs. Her proposed Dignity for All Students Act (also known as the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act) added sexual orientation to a protected class in the California Education Codes. Three earlier iterations of the bill failed in the 1995-1996, 1997-1998, and 1999-2000 legislative sessions. In 2000, the Act finally became law as AB 537. In this clip from a 2001 interview, Kuehl details the culture of discrimination students face in schools and why she authored the law.

Later, Kuehl authored and successfully passed the California Student Civil Right Act (SB of 2007) that further strengthened and defined protections over students’ sexual orientation and gender identity in California schools.

Fact sheet by Senator Sheila Kuehl and a newspaper clipping about the Bias-Free Curriculum Act (2006) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Kuehl’s SB 1437, the Bias-Free Curriculum Act, of the 2005-2006 session would have prohibited discriminatory content based on gender and sexual orientation in the instructional materials for public schools. Although her legislation was vetoed in 2006 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in 2011 SB 48, the FAIR education act authored by fellow LGBT Caucus member Senator Mark Leno, would make California the first state to require the inclusion of LGBT history in public school. Soon after, public schools were required to include gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender historical figures in California and the U.S. in their curricula.

Kuehl also introduced several bills that aimed to provide domestic partners with the rights, benefits, and responsibilities of married spouses. Kuehl’s AB 2211 of the 1999-2000 session enabled more rights for individuals in registered domestic partnerships. The Paid Family Leave Act (SB 1661 of 2002) provided disability compensation to those who left work to take care of sick children, parents, spouses, or domestic partners, providing coverage for LGBT couples, and the Retired Public Employees Domestic Partner Equity Act (SB 973 of 2005) ensured that domestic partners would receive the same benefits as spouses from their partner’s retirement.

Pictured on the left is a fact sheet for SB 1437 from Kuehl and a newspaper clipping opposing her proposed bill titled, “Homosexual text book bill, a dangerous lesson.”

Headlines related to Assembly Member Carole Migden's domestic partnership legislation. (2001) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Carole Migden was elected to the California State Assembly from 1995 to 2002, representing the 3rd District of the San Francisco and surrounding area. She joined Kuehl as only the second openly lesbian or gay legislator in California. Before her election, she served as Chairwoman of the California Board of Equalization and was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for eight years. Migden was the first woman, first lesbian, and first freshman legislator to chair the Assembly Committee of Appropriations, a position she held for five years. After her terms in the Assembly, she was elected to a seat in the Senate from 2004 to 2008.

Among Migden’s many bills that addressed LGBTQ rights was, perhaps most notably, AB 26, which passed in 1999 and instituted California’s first domestic partner registry for same-sex couples. Although domestic partnership did not come close to offering the same extensive rights and benefits of marriage, the ability to register as domestic partners was an enormous advancement for same-sex partners as it offered both symbolic and practical significance for thousands of Californians. Migden successfully expanded the rights of domestic partnerships a few years later with AB 25 (2001).

Pictured on the left are magazine and newspaper clippings related to Migden’s domestic partnership legislation.

Front cover of the HIV/AIDS Policy Agenda for California and a State AIDS Program Funding Detail (1999) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

The HIV/AIDS epidemic emerged and quickly became a global crisis in the 1980’s. Early in the decade, cases were first detected in gay men in New York and California. Infections soon reached far beyond that single demographic and the deadly virus and autoimmune disease claimed millions of lives around the globe before widely accessible treatments were developed. Fears of contracting the disease led to a deep stigma towards the queer community, particularly gay men. In 1986, a proposed California initiative, Proposition 64, would have quarantined Californians living with HIV/AIDS. The measure was overwhelmingly defeated by over 70% of voters, in no small part due to the LGBT communities that campaigned against it.

Many members of the LGBTQ Caucus have focused on HIV/AIDS issues in their legislation, Carole Migden one of the foremost among them. AB 1263 of 2001, authored by Migden, focused on creating rapid testing for HIV/AIDS as to improve the chances of patients learning their results and increase likeliness of counseling. Her AB 103 aimed to protect the confidentiality of individuals who were positive for HIV/AIDS by proposing a confidential reporting system for medical facilities.

Pictured on the left is an agenda booklet for HIV/AIDS policy in California published by the San Francisco AIDS foundation in 1999 and a breakdown of the State of California’s AIDS Program funding from the years 1999-2002 from the Department of Health Services.

Documents related to SJR-11, AB 17, the LGBT Veterans Memorial, and a photograph of Senator Kehoe (2003) by California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus and California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Christine Kehoe was elected to the California State Legislature from 2000 to 2004 as an Assemblywoman for the 76th District, serving the San Diego area. Before her time in the Legislature, she served as the first openly gay member on the San Diego City Council, from 1993 to 2000. In 1986, she had spearheaded the “No on 64” campaign in San Diego against a proposition that would have allowed the State to quarantine individuals who had contracted HIV/AIDS. Kehoe was appointed to the California Transportation Commission in 2016 and again in 2020. She is currently serving her second term.

In 2000, Kehoe and Jackie Goldberg both joined Kuehl and Migden as the first four openly lesbian or gay members of the California Legislature. In 2002, Kehoe authored and filed the founding documents of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus with the Speaker of the Assembly and served as the first chair from 2002 to 2003.

Once formed, the California Legislative LGBT Caucus soon initiated the process for an LGBT Veterans Memorial to be added to the Veterans Memorial in the Capitol Park in Sacramento. Although the California Department of Veteran Affairs initially denied the request, citing that the all other pavers that were in the monument were not intended to be memorials, the request was finally approved in August of 2003 and would lead to one of the first LGBT veterans memorials in the U.S.

Kehoe dedicated consistent effort urging the federal government to repeal the federal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) military policy that had been in place for the better part of a decade when she joined the Legislature in 2000. While individuals who were gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender were now allowed to serve in the military, under the policy individuals could be discharged if they disclosed their sexual orientation to anyone while in service, and, conversely, military personnel were not allowed to inquire about orientation or harass LGBT individuals.

While in the Senate from 2004 to 2012, Kehoe authored and successfully passed four Senate Joint Resolutions (SJR 9 in 2009-2010, SJR 11 in 2005-2006, SHR 6 in 2007-2008, and SJR 2 in 2011-2012) that asked the federal government to repeal DADT. The text of SJR-11 from 2005 cites a study that “suggests that the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy increases troops’ stress levels, lowers their morale, impairs their ability to form trusting bonds with their peers, restricts their access to medical care, psychological services and religious consultations, and limits their ability to advance professionally and their willingness to join and remain in the services.” President Barack Obama officially signed legislation that ended the DADT era in 2011.

Kehoe’s SJR-11 from a third reading in the Senate Rules Committee, the front page of an AB 17 handout for the legislature, a photograph of Kehoe speaking at a Pride event, and the Caucus’s letter requesting an LGBT veteran’s memorial are pictured on the left.

Assembly Member Kehoe speaking on AB 17 to the Judiciary Committee (2003-04-01) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

Assembly Member Christine Kehoe also authored AB 17 in 2003, an Act that would add to the Public Contract Code to prevent state agencies from contracting with vendors that do not offer the same benefits to domestic partners as they do to married spouses. It passed in the same year, further strengthening the rights of domestic partnerships, including thousands of same-sex couples in California. Previously, state employees with registered partners may not have received, for example, healthcare coverage that would have been provided to a spouse on the employees’ plan.

Watch as Kehoe explain what the bill would do and why it is important during a Judiciary Hearing Committee.

First page of The Field Poll survey on same-sex marriage in California (2003-08-29) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

LGBT Marriage Equality

The road to achieve government-recognized civil partnerships and marriage equality was a long struggle for the LGBT community in California and the U.S.

In 1993, a year before first openly gay electee Sheila Kuehl joined the California State Legislature, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (commonly referred to as DOMA) was signed by President Bill Clinton. The law prohibited same-sex marriage, defined marriage as solely between a man and a woman and allowed states to ignore same-sex marriages granted in other states. Several states soon followed suit with similar legislation denying same-sex marriage. This type of legislation was passed shortly after the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled that denying same-sex partners the right to marry was discriminatory and not justifiable within the Hawaiian State Constitution (Baehr v. Lewin of 1993). Although this ruling did not ultimately allow same-sex marriage in Hawaii at the time, fears that same-sex marriage could soon become legal and widespread in the United States fueled legislative efforts to prevent that possibility.

As previously mentioned, Assembly Member Carole Migden’s AB 26 of 1999 was the first domestic partnership registry in California and one of the first in the nation. Its passing was a significant milestone for the LGBT community, offering civilly recognized partnerships to hundreds of thousands of LGBT couples in California. It was the first time that domestic partnerships were enacted by a state legislature without court intervention. Even so, while it allowed same-sex couples to register as domestic partners with the state, it lacked many of the protections and rights that wedded California couples received and offered no federal marriage benefits and rights.

Pictured on the left is the front page from “The Field Poll” survey from 2003, titled “California Voters Divided on Same-Sex Marriage Issues, Wide Differences in Opinion Across Voter Subgroups.”

Biography panel for Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg and a summary, newspaper clipping about AB 205 (2010) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

Jackie Goldberg joined the State Assembly alongside Kehoe in 2000 and served until 2006, representing the 45th District in the Los Angeles area. Prior to her election to the Legislature, she worked for eighteen years as a high school teacher in Compton, California and served as president of the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District from 1989 to 1991. In 1993, she was elected to the Los Angeles City Council, becoming its first openly gay or lesbian member. Today, she serves on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board for District 5.

Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg’s AB 205, The Domestic Partners Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2003, would expand the definition of domestic partnerships significantly to encompass nearly all the rights, responsibilities, and protections of married couples to domestic partners. The bill allowed couples to have agency over vital areas of their partnerships, including the ability to own property, joint obligation over debt, the ability for partners to decide medical treatment for spouses and children of spouses, and in the case of the death of a spouse, allowing control over funeral arrangements and child custody. A background document for the bill refers to the 2000 census which found that same-sex couples occupied nearly 400,000 households in California, a considerable number of California’s population.

A highly controversial bill, the opposition argued that such legislation essentially equated domestic partnerships to marriage and would be in conflict with Proposition 22 of 2000, which added a section to the California Family Code that defined legal marriage only between a man and a woman in California. A quote from the Chico Enterprise Record relays Proposition 22’s author Senator William J. “Pete” Knight’s view on same-sex marriage: “Homosexuals want to be recognized as normal, as an alternative family unit – and they’re not.”* Despite a wave of strong opposition to the bill, AB 205 passed and was signed into law in 2003 by Governor Gray Davis. A victory for the LGBT community, it brought same-sex couples in California one large step closer to marriage equality, though it did not provide all of the rights of marriage in the State and still left domestic partners in California lacking federal marriage rights. A section that would have allowed to file their taxes jointly, for example, was removed as a Senate amendment.

Pictured on the left is a detail of a bio panel of Goldberg from an LGBT Caucus event program, a handout related to AB 205 for the legislature, and newspaper clippings of a Sacramento Bee article on AB 205.

Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg on AB 205 (2003-04-01) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

Watch as Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg talks about what AB 205 would do while it is under review in the Legislature.

Assembly Member Mountjoy arguing against AB 205 (2003-09-03) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

Opponent to AB 205, Assembly Member Dennis Mountjoy, urges the State Assembly to cast a no vote.

Assembly Member Laird argues for AB 205 (2003-09-03) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

Assembly Member John Laird asks the Assembly to vote yes on AB 205.

Vote for concurrence on Senate amendments for AB 205 in the Assembly (2003-09-03) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

In this clip, the votes trickle as a measure to amend AB 205 passes concurrence for Senate amendments.

Articles from Chicago Tribune and San Francisco Gate on same-sex marriages in San Francisco (2004) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

In February of 2004, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the City Clerk to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian activist group in the U.S., were the first to wed during the brief window. The thousands of marriages that took place in the span of a month were soon halted and annulled by the California Supreme Court.

Documents relating to AB 849, AB 19, and AB 43 (2007) by California State ArchivesCalifornia State Archives

Days after the flurry of same-sex marriages in San Francisco in February 2004, Mark Leno introduced legislation that would allow same-sex couples to legally marry in California with AB 1967, a proposed bill that neutralized the language that defined marriage solely between a man and a woman in California to instead refer to two people. It passed in the Assembly, but Leno pulled the bill. He reintroduced gender-neutral marriage bills with AB 19 and AB 849 in 2005 and AB 43 in 2007. Both AB 849 and AB 43 passed the Assembly and Senate, but were each time vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

In May 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to grant marriage equality to same-sex couples.

Pictured on the left are a list of talking points on AB 849 for Mark Leno, a summary of AB 19 for a third reading in the Assembly, and the front page of AB 43 with a handwritten tally of votes from the Assembly and Senate.

An AB 43 summary, photos of a Harvey Milk Celebration, and letter re Select Cmte on LGBT Families (2007) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

Mark Leno served portions of the San Francisco area under the 13th Assembly District of for six years, from 2002 to 2008. Elected to the Senate in 2008, there he represented the 3rd Senate District, which included parts of San Francisco and Sonoma counties. Before joining the Legislature, Leno spent four and a half years as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was the first openly gay man elected to the California Senate.

Shortly after arriving in office, Leno founded and chaired the State Assembly Select Committee on LGBT Families in order to better serve the specific family needs of his lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender constituents in 2003. Leno’s letter to Caucus Chair Christine Kehoe formally requesting the formation of the committee is pictured on the left.

While in office, Leno championed several bills for LGBT rights, authoring the first two same-sex marriage bills to pass a state legislature in the nation with AB 849 in 2005 and AB 43 in 2007. However, both bills were vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

Amid Leno’s other landmark legislation is his Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful, or FAIR, Education Act (SB 48), signed into law in 2011. The act amended the California Education Code, directing public schools to include the contributions of people with disabilities and LGBT individuals in the history curricula taught in K-12 grades, and to use textbooks and instructional materials that cover such inclusive history. California had previously required schools to cover the history of African American, Native American, Mexican American, and Asian-American/Pacific Islander groups, and was the first state in the country to pass legislation to include LGBT history in its classrooms.

Other legislative victories included AB 196 of 2003, which expanded protections under the Fair Employment and Housing Act to protect individuals from discrimination based on their perceived gender in employment and housing. Mannerisms, appearance, presentation, voice, or other characteristics of employees that were considered “too masculine” or “too feminine” for an individual’s perceived gender could not be used to harass, discriminate, or fire employees, or deny housing to individuals.* AB 2920, the LGBT Senior California Non-Discrimination Act, was another notable bill that expanded the Mello-Granlund Older Californians Act to ensure that LGBT seniors were included in the programs offered by the California Department of Aging.

The bill for Harvey Milk Day (SB 572 in 2009), authored and advocated for by Leno, turned Milk’s birthday on May 22nd into a state-recognized holiday. The resolution encourages Californians to honor Milk’s life and legacy by participating in commemorative activities on the day.

Pictured on the left is a photo collage of a Harvey Milk Day celebration organized by the LGBT Caucus with Leno and other Caucus members present, an Assembly Committee on Judiciary hearing brief on AB 43, and the 2003 letter from Leno asking Chair Christine Kehoe to form the State Assembly Select Committee on LGBT Families.

Assembly Member Leno speaking on the importance of gender-neutral marriage for same-sex couples (2004-04-20) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

In the following slides, the original Caucus members discuss marriage equality as it relates to AB 1967 (authored by Leno), AB 205 (authored by Goldberg), and AB 849 (authored by Leno).

Watch as Mark Leno responds to why AB 1967 is still necessary after AB 205 passed the previous year during a Judiciary Committee Hearing in April of 2004.

Senator Kuehl speaking about AB 849 on the Senate Floor (2005-09-10) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

Watch as Senators Sheila Kuehl and Carole Migden (next slide) offer their support for AB 849 during a Senate Floor Session from September 2005.

Senator Migden speaking about AB 849 on the Senate Floor (2005-09-10) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

In 2008, same-sex marriages were finally legalized statewide in California through a Supreme Court order. Proposition 8, which once again banned gay marriage in the State, passed later the same year by California voters but was later ruled unconstitutional in 2010. In 2015, the Federal Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in every state in the United States. In this clip, Carole Migden speaks on marriage equality and why she asked for an aye vote on one of Leno’s gender-neutral marriage bills, AB 849 of 2005.

Photograph of Assembly Member John Laird speaking at a Pride exhibit in the State Capitol (2007) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

John Laird served the 27th Assembly District, representing parts of Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara Counties, from 2002 to 2008. He was elected to California’s 17th Senate District in 2020, although he is no longer serving as a member of the LGBTQ Caucus. In between his Assembly and Senate terms, Laird served as Secretary of California’s Natural Resources (2011-2019), continuing his work to protect the environment. Before his election to the Assembly, he served two non-consecutive terms as the Mayor of Santa Cruz from 1983 to 1984 and 1987 to 1988 and was the executive director of the Santa Cruz AIDS Project.

Although bills to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians had previously been proposed and passed by the California State Legislature in 1984 (AB 1) and 1991 (AB 101), both had been vetoed by Governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, respectively. In 2004, Laird successfully passed AB 2900, adding sexual orientation to the categories of protected classes under employee discrimination.

Laird’s other notable legislation focused on LGBT issues include his series of civil rights bills, notably his “Civil Rights Act of 2005” (AB 1400 of 2005) which expanded the protected classes of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, under which business establishment are not allowed to discriminate against customers, to include marital status or sexual orientation in addition to sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, or medical condition. In the following three years, Laird continued to introduce and pass legislation that would expand the civil rights of Californians, adding new protected classes from discrimination in different contexts (The Civil Rights Housing Act of 2006, AB 2800; The Civil Rights Act of 2007, AB 14; The Civil Rights Act of 2008, AB 2654).

Pictured on the left is a photograph of Laird speaking at a Pride ceremony in the State Capitol.

Pride Month Celebration programs and a copy of House Resolution 51 (2010) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

Pride Month

The Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 was a major catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States. On June 28th, the series of protests first took place one evening after one of the usual police raids of Stonewall Inn in New York City, a bar that catered to gay, lesbian, and non gender nonconforming patrons. Public unrest continued over the course of four days, becoming the first organized mass protest for LGBT rights in the United States. June has since carried associations with gay liberation and pride, and Pride Month celebrations are now annually organized nationwide.

California’s Gay and Lesbian Pride Month was formally established by the Caucus in its first year. House Resolution 51 of 2002, introduced by Christine Kehoe, encouraged Californians to celebrate LGBT history and partake in festivities during June.

Front cover of MGW Newspaper and a Pride Exhibit Members Resolution (2002) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

The first official Pride Month in California brought with it the first annual LGBT Exhibit in Sacramento’s State Capitol established by the Caucus. That June, the second floor of the rotunda displayed a timeline of LGBT history and a series of “visions” of the future from Caucus members Kuehl, Kehoe, Migden, and Goldberg. In Kehoe’s vision for equality, she reflected on the importance of celebrating LGBT history:

“As long as there has been a society, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) people have contributed to it. We have written American classics, educated young people, defined schools of philosophy, created music, art, and theater, fought for a woman’s right to vote and own property, served in every branch of the military, and persuaded all-male universities to admit women.

Our vision for the future must include cherishing our rich and diverse history because it is the foundation upon which we build. Gays and lesbians helped found UNICEF, established the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, expanded the rights of workers, and created worldwide organizations for the support and advancement of our own people as well as many others.”*

The opening of the exhibit was the headlining article in the June 2002 issue of the Sacramento-based “Mom Guess What Newspaper” [pictured]. Also pictured is a resolution signed by all LGBT Caucus members for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Exhibit.

Photographs of the first transgender flag and the second Pride flag flown at the Sacramento Capitol (2019) by California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, Alina Hernandez, Brian Guido, and Jesse MelgarCalifornia State Archives

Pride Month of 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. That year, seventeen years after the Caucus’s first official Pride celebration, a rainbow pride flag flew above Sacramento’s State Capitol building - only the second occurrence since 1990.

The iconic rainbow flag, first flown in 1978 for the San Francisco Pride Parade, was designed by Gilbert Baker, who gained global recognition for establishing such a central and instantly recognizable symbol for the queer community. It originally featured eight stripes, each color carrying a symbolic meaning for the different facets of life and love. The flag is now more often designed with six stripes due to manufacturing limitations, without the original hot pink and turquoise, and makes appearances at yearly Pride festivals and as symbols of Pride year-round.

During the same Pride Month, the transgender flag pictured here was hoisted high above the California State Capitol building for the first time in history. The flag, designed in 1999 by U.S. veteran, activist, and transgender woman Monica Helms, features horizontal stripes of light pink, blue, and white. The pink and blue colors at the top and bottom are colors traditionally associated with male and female, and a neutral white stripe, symbolic of transition or nonidentification, intersects the middle.

Invitation to Senator Toni Atkins' inauguration, Pride Month photographs, and signed plaque (2018) by California Legislative LGBTQ CaucusCalifornia State Archives

The LGBTQ Caucus has overseen many milestones for the gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual Californians in its almost 20-year existence, but many pressing issues, including transphobia, hate crimes, and continued discrimination, still exist. By 2009, many of the original Caucus members had left office (only Kehoe and Leno remained, continuing their terms in the Senate) and a wave of fresh faces formed the next generation of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus. In the coming years, these new members would carry the torch for LGBTQ social change in California and set forth their own legislative actions.

In a landmark bill from 2017, Senator Toni Atkins, LGBTQ Caucus member and the first woman and openly LGBTQ Speaker Pro Tempore of the Senate, successfully passed SB 179, a bill that allows non-binary Californians to mark “X” instead of “F” or “M” to indicate their gender. The freedom to express in alignment with one’s identified gender has been an enduring and hard-fought issue in the legislative arena.

In 2020, Senator Scott Weiner, a current member of the LGBTQ Caucus, sought to address the lack of COVID-related data collected from the LGBTQ community with SB 932. Signed into law in September of the same year, the bill made it mandatory for California to collect information on infection, hospitalization, ICU, recovery, and mortality rates.

Currently under consideration is SB 932, among the authors are current Caucus chair Evan Low and co-author Scott Weiner. The legislation would require large retailers to forgo separate girl and boy children’s sections and instead present children’s merchandise in a gender-neutral way, addressing concerns of children being confined to societal expectations of gender roles.

As of 2021, a total of twelve members joined the Caucus after the founding six. Two new members joined the LGBTQ Caucus this year, one of which was both the youngest member to be elected to the California State Legislature at twenty-five years old and the first openly bisexual member of the Legislature and the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. Interestingly, according to CalMatters, the current proportion of LGBTQ members in the State Legislature today (6.8%) slightly exceeds that of the LGBTQ population in the entire state (5.3%), making the Caucus’s number in the Legislature closely representative of its constituent population.

The Golden State has been an epicenter of significant LGBTQ social movements for the better part of a century, and for the last two decades, the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus has led the way for substantial change, passing well over one hundred bills related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights in its short history - many of which were firsts in the nation. From its first day, the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus began making history and will continue to do so as it moves forward addressing vital issues on behalf of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer constituents.

Credits: Story

California State Archives
Sacramento, CA

Most records provided courtesy of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus. Select records, photographs and videos featured are property of the California State Archives and the California Secretary of State's Office.

Select photographs by Jesse Melgar, Alina Hernandez, and Brian Guido.
Film editing by Brian Guido and Thaddeus McCurry.

Text and imaging by Noël Albertsen.
Exhibit by Noël Albertsen (2021).


Slide 3 Citations:
1: California Legislative LGBT Caucus. “A Timeline of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Communities." Pride Month handout, (June 2004).
2-3: Richards, Jacob. “From One to Windsor: Sixty Years of the Movement for LGBT Rights.” Journal Article, American Bar Association, (November/December 2014), 35-36, JSTOR, Slide 14: Rizo, Chris. "Gay caucus's actions irritate legislator." Chico Enterprise Record (January 31, 2003). Slide 21: Senate Judiciary Committee Analysis, AB 196 (2003), Mark Leno, 3.

California State Archives
A Division of the California Secretary of State's Office
1020 O Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Reference Telephone: (916) 653-2246
General Information: (916) 653-7715
Fax: (916) 653-7363

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
United States of Culture
From Yosemite to Broadway, take a trip around the States with more than 530 American institutions
View theme
Google apps