During Equality California‘s (EQCA’s) Los Angeles Awards Dinner, I had an opportunity to listen to award winner Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) speak, and had a brief opportunity to sit down with her. Rep. Judy Chu (left) and Autumn Sandeen (right) When I arrived at the dinner, her name was very familiar, but I just couldn’t place it. But when she was introduced, and then spoke, I was a bit taken aback with awe.

I don’t get taken aback with awe very much in my life anymore, so it’s a big deal to me when I do. Tears actually welled up in my eyes when I realized who she was, and why her name was familiar to me. So let me tell you why I knew her name.

California Assemblymember John Perez (D-Los Angeles/46th District) introduced Rep. Chu. He reminded us that in 2002, Rep. Chu introduced AB 2651, the Foster Youth: Sexual Orientation and Religious Affiliation bill. Baptist Press: California governor vetoes transsexual foster-care billFirst the religious right labeled the bill the “Homosexual Foster Care Bill,” later to rename it the “Transsexual Foster Care Bill.” Governor Gray Davis (D-CA) vetoed the bill, Assemblymember Perez told us, because then Assemblymember Chu wouldn’t remove transgender youth

The Foster Youth Anti-Discrimination Act was reintroduced in 2003 as AB 458. Transgender youth were included, and Gov. Davis signed that bill, in what folk like me perceived to be because he was pandering to the LGBT community — due to the then pending recall against him.  

The point I took away from that fight, back then, was that our Democratic Assembly — especially Assemblymember Judy Chu — would not leave anyone behind. And, the people she would not leave behind were lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who likely would never have an opportunity to vote to reelect her to the State Assembly. As a trans woman, I was sure — am sure — she wouldn’t leave anyone behind.

Now, as of July 16th, she is a California Congresswoman, representing the 32nd District. She is the first Chinese-American Woman ever to serve in Congress, winning a special election for the seat.

In her acceptance speech for the EQCA Award, Congresswoman Chu (D-CA32) mentioned hate crimes. She drew the parallel between Kenny Chiu and Matthew Sheppard:

Kenny Chiu was a 17 year old Taiwanese American who was stabbed to death 26 times in the driveway of his own home by his neo-nazi neighbor just for being Asian American. Matthew Shepherd was only 21 years old when he was dragged from a bar, beaten, tied to a split-rail fence like a scarecrow and left to die in the cold of the night— just for being gay.

I cannot fight for the civil rights of one group without fighting for the civil rights of the other. Things will not change until people stand up and say strongly and unflinchingly that we will not tolerate making anybody in this state a second class citizen.

It was moving.

This is where I get to talk about what a horrible interviewer I was that night. I had a chance to interview her after she received the award, Congresswoman Judy Chu (left) and Autumn Sandeen (right) at the Equality California Awards Dinner, Los Angeles, August 1, 2009and frankly I spent my time that I had to interview her to fawn over her…to tell her how much I appreciated her work for transgender people and transgender youth when she was an Assemblymember.

In my one serious question for Rep. Chu, I asked what message she would want to share with the Pam’s House Blend audience. She told me two things. One was that she that didn’t have a federal hate crime law (Matthew Sheppard Act) and an employment non-discrimination law (ENDA) that included lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people to be “ridiculous” to her, and that she planned to continue to fight for the rights of all people.

I don’t doubt it for a minute.

Honestly, I can’t thank Equality California enough for honoring California’s newest congresswoman. Congresswoman Chu is a politician of whom I can say — with genuine heartfelt feeling — so deserved the recognition she received this past weekend.

Photographs of Congresswoman Judy Chu and Autumn Sandeen by Karen Ocamb of In/Frontiers Magazine.

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Further Reading:

* The Advocate: Gala Raises Cash, Awards Equality Heroes

Autumn Sandeen

Autumn Sandeen

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