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Image by: Kati Garner Beginning in the late 1970’s and throughout the 1980’s many important gay activists were devastated by the AIDS epidemic. With them went their personal stories of coming out, experiences of discrimination, and what they did to fight back.
It is rare that we are able to hear such an important advocate for civil rights speak in person; however on Sunday, June 2, long-time gay-Hispanic civil rights activist, George Raya delighted an audience of around 40 people with his stories of what it was like being gay in the ‘60’s, ‘70’s and 80’s. He also reminisced about his personal accomplishments in the struggle for basic civil rights and legal acceptance.
Raya began by talking about how his family, about the time he was 16 already had a transgendered and lesbian family member so when he finally came out at 19, it really wasn’t that big of a deal.
Majoring in Government at Sacramento State, Raya helped to start the very first club for gay students. “Of the group of 20 students in the club, we were both determined and frightened. At our first meeting, every time we heard a knock on the door, we thought it as the police coming to arrest us’” said Raya.
There was a great deal of resistance from the college administration so Raya and the rest of the club took them to court in order to gain their charter. Finally they won and the Society for Homosexual Freedom was established.
In 1972, Raya graduated from Sacramento State and left to study law at UC Berkeley. It wasn’t long before he decided that law wasn’t the direction he wanted to go so he left the Bay Area with a wealth of connections to other gay activists he would come to work beside in the coming years.
In 1974, Raya became the first full-time gay rights legislative advocate in Sacramento. His first success was Willie Brown’s Consenting Adult Bill in 1975 (AB 489). The bill, for the first time legalized sex between consenting adults and paved the way to other civil rights legislation.
It was Raya’s involvement in that groundbreaking bill earned him an invitation to the White House in 1977. History was made when President Jimmy Carter allowed for the first time ever, a formal discussion of gay rights in the White House. There were 13 other activists, besides Raya who came from all over the nation.
“The results of that three-hour meeting led to many important federal policy changes that altered lives of gays and lesbians for the better, “said Raya.
Today Raya is a case manager for the County Department of Human Assistance and he continues to be active in community, political and social events and issues.