Ricardo Lara makes history as California’s 1st openly gay elected statewide officeholder

Ricardo Lara Insurance Commissioner

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, seen at the 3rd Annual Cambodian Genocide Remembrance Day, made history Friday when he became California’s for openly gay statewide officeholder. Photo: Office of Sen. Ricardo Lara.

Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara made history Friday when he became California’s for openly gay statewide officeholder.

The Associated Press projected that Lara defeated Republican-turned-independent Steve Poizner to become California’s next insurance commissioner after new vote totals were announced Friday.

Lara received 51.6 percent with almost 4.9 million votes, according to totals released by the Secretary of State’s office.

Lara also made history in 2012 by becoming the first openly gay person of color elected to the California Senate.

The Midterm Election also was historic for the LGBTQ community with a record number of candidates winning across the nation.

Sharice Davids became the first lesbian Native American woman elected to Congress.

Katie Hill was elected the first LGBTQ Congresswoman from California.

Insurance Commissioner

As commissioner of the California Department of Insurance, Lara will be in charge of an agency with vast authority. The department enforces insurance laws and licenses, regulates companies, and investigates fraud. Lara will replace Commissioner Dave Jones, who is termed out of office, in January.

“Ricardo has been a champion for California’s LGBTQ and immigrant communities throughout his career, working to tear down barriers, ensure equality for all and now break through California’s rainbow glass ceiling,” Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur said in a statement. “In an already historic year for LGBTQ candidates across California and the nation, Ricardo has proven that an openly gay son of a factory worker and seamstress who immigrated from Mexico can grow up to represent 40 million people in the world’s fifth largest economy.”

Raised in East Los Angeles, Lara previously authored a failed bill that would have provided state-run health insurance and has said that issue remains a top priority.

Conversion Therapy

In 2015, Lara authored Senate Bill 524, “Protecting Youth from Institutional Abuse Act,” which regulates private-residential programs that claim to help “troubled youth,” including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Gov. Brown signed the bill into law in October 2016.

The bill, which has no religious exemptions, requires boarding schools, camps and other organizations claiming to provide such services to register with the California Department of Social Services. The department is required to conduct checks to ensure participants are not being abused and investigate all reports of abuse.

We Will Be Vigilant

“To the victims that have been victims of this type of abuse in these so-called ‘troubled teen’ camps or through ‘conversion therapy,’ we are going to be very vigilant as the Insurance Commissioner to make sure that we not only investigate but we seek out these individuals who are causing our community harm and hold them to justice,” Lara has said. “We’ll work with our Attorney General to make sure that we bring justice to so many victims and we weed out these shams that we know only serve to harm our community.”

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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