Rep. Ammiano Honored as ACLU’s ‘Legislator of the Year’

by Dan Aiello, California Progress Report

At an awards ceremony held in Los Angelese Sunday,  the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California presented the organization’s ‘Legislator of the Year’ award to 13th District Assemblymember, Democrat Tom Ammiano.

The Assemblymember was recognized for his successful stewardship of several prominent ACLU-sponsored civil rights bills through this year’s legislative session.  

Ammiano has been a civil liberties activist for more than four decades. He is the author of four of the ACLU’s most prominent bills this year, including Seth’s Law (AB 9), Secure Communities (AB 1081), 911 Good Samaritan (AB 472), and Eyewitness Identification (AB 308).

In a press release following the selection Ammiano wrote, ‘I am honored to receive this award from the ACLU. From fighting the Briggs initiative to putting an end to the bullying of LGBT students, we can never rest in our efforts to defend our fundamental rights as citizens especially in a time when civil liberties continue to be eroded in the name of security,’ said Ammiano.

A Career Dedicated to Equality and Civil Rights

In 1975, Ammiano became the first public school teacher in San Francisco to make his sexual orientation a matter of public knowledge. In 1977, Ammiano joined civil rights activists Harvey Milk and Hank Wilson to formulate a response to the Briggs Initiative threat, a referendum that sought to deny homosexuals from employment as teachers, according to Quinin Mecke, Ammiano’s Communications Director.  

Proposed by State Senator John Briggs, Proposition 6 was championed by out-of state, anti-gay religious advocate, Anita Bryant. The anti-Briggs movement, supported by people as diverse as Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, despite initial polling data that showed overwhelming support for the initiative, was successful in defeating the discriminatory legislation. The political win marked the first organized effort for the equal rights of gay and lesbian Californians, an effort which became a movement that continues to seek equality for homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered people.

Ammiano went on to win a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors where he served for 14 years. He also served on the State’s Board of Education.

Colleagues Offer Their Congratulations

California’s Assembly Speaker, John Perez, who upon taking the oath of office became the state and the nation’s first openly gay Speaker Pro Tempore, believes the ACLU made the right choice in selecting Ammiano as Legislator of the Year.

‘Mr. Ammiano has been a strong advocate for justice as chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee. He has taken a thoughtful, comprehensive approach throughout his time as Chair, and I believe he is richly deserving of this award,’ wrote the speaker in an email to California Progress Report.

Among the attendees at the awards ceremony was one of Ammiano’s colleagues, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, (D-Santa Monica). ‘No one is more deserving to be honored by the ACLU than Assemblymember Tom Ammiano because of his extraordinary advocacy for human rights and civil rights,’ Brownley told CPR.

‘I think Tom is the perfet recipient of this ACLU recognition. He has been fighting for social and economic justice and civil liberties his entire life.  No one does it better,’ said State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who represents many of the same Bay Area communities as Ammiano.

Organizations that lobby for equal rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Americans offered their congradulations to the Assembly member for the recognition of his work, much of which has been focused on civil rights and liberties historically denied to homosexuals, from the right to serve in the nation’s armed forces to protection from discrimination in employment and housing.  

Since taking office as Assembly member of the 13th District of California, Ammiano also has sought protection for transgendered inmates and called for the repeal of the FDA’s discriminatory policy forbidding gay men from donating blood.

"So much of our work to make California a more fair and equal state for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people would not be possible without the incredible leadership and commitment to equality that Assemblymember Ammiano exemplifies," said Roland Palencia, Executive Director of Equality California. "Assemblymember Ammiano is a champion whose work on critical legislation like Seth’s Law makes a real difference in the lives of LGBT Californians. We congratulate him for this well-deserved recognition by the ACLU."

Christine Allen, spokesperson for Marriage Equality USA, offered her organization’s support for Ammiano: "We congratulate Assemblymember Ammiano on this award and thank him for all of his good work. [Asm. Ammiano] is one of the legislators Marriage Equality USA can rely upon to stand up for equality and justice for all. And, we love his sense of humor!"  

Zack Kaldveer, spokesperson for the Consumer Federation of California and author of the blog Privacy Revolt, echoed the praise. Kaldveer noted Ammiano’s commitment to consumer and privacy rights, stating, ‘Assemblymember Ammiano not only has a 100% lifetime record in the state legislature on issues that affect the rights of consumers, but in 2011 he was an ardent supporter of a host of critical privacy protection bills ranging from expanding medical record confidentiality, safeguarding reader privacy from government snooping, improving data breach protections and notifications, and prohibiting prospective employers from using consumer credit reports in the hiring process.’

Along with its recognition of Ammiano, the ACLU also honored Gore Vidal with its Lifetime Achievement award. Both men were recognized at the organization’s 48th Annual Garden Party fundraising event.