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Gay Latino candidate hopes to make history in 34th Congressional District race

LOS ANGELES — Raymond Meza hopes to make history next week and become the first openly-gay Latino member of Congress.

The 32-year-old the external organizing coordinator with Service Employees International Union Local 721, is running in Tuesday’s primary election for the 34th Congressional District. Xavier Becerra, who was the district representative since 1992, vacated the seat earlier this year when he was appointed attorney general by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“When I was growing up, I never saw any gay Latinos in politics or pop culture,” said Meza, who grew up  and lives in Montecito Heights. “It’s really important that there are more LGBTQ Latinos and people of color to be be remodels.”

Meza wants to stand out among the challengers in race, and to say it’s a crowded field, is an understatement — Meza is one of  23 candidates on the ballot: 19 Democrats, one Republican, one Green Party, one Libertarian and one Independent.

The district includes portions of the Eastside including Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Lincoln Heights, along with Downtown, Koreatown, the Westlake and Pico Union districts and Historic Filipinotown.

The two candidates, regardless of party, who receive the most votes in Tuesday’s race will appear on the ballot for the June 6 special election.

Meza spoke with Q Voice News about his run for office. Here are some excerpts.

On why it’s important to elect a gay Latino to Congress:

“It’s important that it’s boldly stated that I would be the first gay Latino person in Congress because a lot of people are uncomfortable with their identity,” said Meza, who came out in 1999 on his first day of high school. “Our identity is an important part of who we are.”

On staying connected to the communities he would be representing in the 34th Congressional District:

“I was born and raised and still live in Montecito Heights. Three generations of my family have lived here. I have a deep sense of connection. I only lived outside of the district for the four years I went to U.C. Santa Barbara,” Meza said.

“I have worked within the district as an organizer for nine years with SEIU Local 721, which represents city and county employees. I also go to neighborhood and city council meetings.”

On running for Congress

“This is my first time running for elected office, but I’m well experienced in the rule process,” Meza said. “I’m experienced in what it takes to get bills passed and working within the bureaucracy and the Federal Government.

“Whoever gets elected to this seat, we will be at the bottom of the totem pole for the Democratic Party. We are coming in after Congress was sworn in and will have the least amount of seniority, so we can’t fight for the committees we want to sit on,” he said. “The three committees I want to be on are Education and Workforce, Ways and Means and Foreign Affairs.”

On his three priorities:

Healthcare. “Healthcare is a right. I support a single-payer health care system,” Meza said. “We should protect the Affordable Care Act and improve on it. It is far from perfect.”

Public education. “Public education should be free. We can pay for it by changing the tax code to one that is more progressive,” Meza said. “We should close the loopholes for wealthy people and corporations.”

Immigration reform. “We have to protect Deferred Action programs and programs that protect refugees,” Meza said. “We need humane immigration reform. People should not be self deporting.

“The process should not place an undo economic burden on people who are here. There shouldn’t be penalties for people who are here,” he said. “The costs should only cover the basic administration overhead of the process.”

Raymond Meza hopes to make history next week and become the first openly-gay Latino member of Congress.
The 32-year-old the external organizing coordinator with Service Employees International Union Local 721, is running in Tuesday’s primary election for the 34th Congressional District. Photo: Raymond Meza campaign.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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