Three Openly Gay California Public Officials Honored by the White House

California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, Sen. Ricardo Lara and Redondo Beach Mayor Michael Gin will be honored by the White House May 22 as “Harvey Milk Champions of Change.”  

The three are among 10 openly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender public officials across the country being recognized at an event that falls on Harvey Milk Day, which commemorates the civil rights leader’s birthday.  

John Laird

John Laird

“These are LGBT leaders who have demonstrated a strong commitment to both equality and public service. They are citizen legislators, executives and appointees who serve honestly, openly and proudly,” said Chuck Wolfe, president of the Washington D.C.-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, which works to elect gay and lesbian candidates.

Laird is a former member of the Assembly. Among the 82 bills he had signed into law was creation of the landmark Sierra Conservancy.  He has been Gov. Jerry Brown’s cabinet secretary for natural resources since January 2011.

A former Assemblyman, Lara is a Long Beach Democrat. He was elected to the Senate in 2012.

“I am humbled to be included among such an amazing array of LGBT leaders,” Lara said in a statement. “The fact that three Californians are being honored is telling of the essential role California plays in advancing equality.”

Michael Gin

Michael Gin

City councilman from 1995 to 2003, Gin is completing his second four-year term as mayor of the South Coast city of 68,000.

The other Harvey Milk “Champions of Change” are:

Simone Bell, Georgia State Representative

Angie Buhl O’Donnell, South Dakota State Senator

Karen Clark, Minnesota State Representative

Kim Coco Iwamoto, Hawaii State Civil Rights Commissioner 

Kim Painter, Johnson Country Recorder, Iowa City, Iowa

Ricardo Lara

Ricardo Lara

Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati Ohio City Council Member

Pat Steadman, Colorado State Senator

The White House established its “Champions of Change” program in 2011 to honor ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things for their community, their country and their fellow citizens. 

These are the first Harvey Milk Champions of Change awards.

President Obama created the special awards in 2009 when he posthumously gave Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian medal. The citation for Milk reads:

“Harvey Bernard Milk dedicated his life to shattering boundaries and challenging assumptions. As one of the first openly gay elected officials in this country, he changed the landscape of opportunity for the nation’s gay community.

“Throughout his life, he fought discrimination with visionary courage and conviction. Before his tragic death in 1978, he wisely noted, ‘Hope will never be silent,’ and called upon Americans to stay true to the guiding principles of equality and justice for all. Harvey Milk’s voice will forever echo in the hearts of all those who carry forward his timeless message.”

The bill creating Harvey Milk Day — SB 572 by Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat — offers a  brief appreciation of his life and legacy.


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