Equality California (EQCA) is the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. According to their site, they are always “striving to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all LGBTQ+ people.” With over 180 bills passed in favor of queer rights over 20 years, EQCA has been making good on its mission in a huge way.
When Prop 8 passed, revoking the right for same-sex couples to marry in California, Tony Hoang was still an undergraduate at USC. He began interning as an organizer, traveling across Los Angeles county, talking to voters about same-sex marriages and LBGTQIA+ rights. While Hoang had not yet come out as gay, he was already becoming a champion for queer rights. He says that going door to door and speaking candidly about these issues is what gave him the courage to come out later that summer, first to his family and then to his circle of friends.
After college, Hoang worked his way up through the non-profit world, from being an organizer to his current role as Executive Director of EQCA.
He was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about some of EQCA’s recent political battles and future goals.
Can you tell us about some of the legislation you have been working with recently?
Yes. We had a really great year. Our legislative session just ended last month, and the governor signed a number of our bills. One of the most prominent ones is a bill that dates back to June called “Safer Streets for All.”
This bill repealed a law that criminalized something called “loitering with the intent to solicit.” This criminalized people who were thought to be engaging in sex work and so was used specifically to profile and discriminate against women of color, particularly trans women of color. Under this bill, someone could be walking down the street with a certain type of clothing with condoms in their pocket and be charged with the statute even though they were not actually engaging in sex work. We worked with a large coalition for two years to repeal this bill.
We worked on two bills this year that dealt with issues on a national level. One dealt with abortion, particularly given the Dobbs decision from the supreme court. We had a bill called AB1666, which protects folks who are accessing abortion care or accessing providers who are providing that type of care to ensure that they are protected from civil liability on the basis of other states. For example, if you are coming from Texas to access abortion care, this bill would protect you from any civil liability, given that you came to California to access that care.
We modeled that same structure for children who are seeking gender-affirming care. This is particularly important in places like Texas, where Governor Abbott criminalized the ability for trans kids to access gender-affirming care. He actually threatened to remove children from their families. So, we modeled this bill after the abortion bill to ensure that, again, if these families are supporting their kids and are coming to California to access gender-affirming care, they would also be protected from civil liability in the states that they came from.
[Note: at this point in the interview, I asked Tony if he had also been at the GLAAD awards this year, where a mother of a family from Texas got on stage to speak. “I drive a minivan,” she said. “My kitchen table is a mess. We are a normal family.” Normal, she explained, except for the fact that having a transgender child labeled her family as abnormal in her state. She and her husband were accused of child abuse and persecuted for providing their child with gender-affirming care. This is exactly the type of unjust civil liability that Hoang and EQCA have fought against with this bill.]
On the federal level, given the pending election for the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, one thing that we are focused on is making sure that the vote happens around the respectful marriage act. People are concerned about the right to marriage equality, given the Dobbs decision. Could marriage equality now be overturned? There is a bipartisan effort to make sure that we enshrine same-sex marriages federally. Hopefully, that will clear 60 votes.
As folks may know, there is a patchwork of legal protections across the country, depending on which state you live in. In some places like Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi, you can still be discriminated against for things like housing and adoption based on your LGBTQ status. What advocates are hoping for is a comprehensive federal bill to amend the Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Given the vast number of LGBT rights that need to be addressed, how do you decide where to start and what to focus on?
It happens in a whole host of ways. We want to make sure we are hearing from our members and our constituents. Sometimes, we will hear directly from members who are having an issue that we believe we can solve with policy or regulatory work. Other times, we have legislators who come to us with ideas. We also convene with all the great LGBTQIA+ organizations working in the state of California and talk about priorities.
I will say that sometimes things will happen on the national level that will throw a wrench in our plans from the year prior. For example, the abortion Dobbs decision. We want to make sure we are reacting in real-time to the needs of the community.
How do you handle the failures, like when a bill doesn’t pass? Is it always back to the drawing board?
I think a prime example of that is a bill that we did a few years ago with Senator Weiner from San Francisco. The bill would prohibit surgeries until people could consent to them for folks who identify as intersex. We were battling the medical community to prevent bodily harm for these people in the future. But this was a bill that didn’t get passed. There was too much opposition from the medical community. So we went back to the drawing board to see if we could piecemeal this and work with the medical community and see if there was some sort of middle ground.
We are never going to give up on what we are fighting for. We will continue to ask how we can shift public opinion and educate legislators and the broader public about some of these newer issues. In situations like these, we will continue to chip away at it until we are able to get the votes needed to pass the needed piece of legislation.
You have enlightened me so much about this process. Is there anything you would like to add?
I do want to flag that people in California may think that everything is done. But we know there is really a lot more work to be done, especially in this moment where the rhetoric about LGBT issues has progressed in a very short amount of time. We are getting painted in some pretty ugly language. This isn’t just in Florida or Texas. That same rhetoric is seeping down to school boards across the state here in California. What we are seeing is outright hostile school board members who are disobeying the law and not allowing LGBTQ kids to be out in their schools. These kids are not allowed to have inclusive clubs. The teachers are not teaching LGBTQ-inclusive curricula. For us, it’s about ensuring that California continues to be a place of refuge. The local youth is going to continue to be a central focus for us for quite a few years.