Rising Stars: Rainer Apostol, office of Sen. Caroline Menjivar

As a committed activist for social justice reforms, Rainer Apostol has been an invaluable help as a legislative aide for Sen. Caroline Menjivar.

The legislator, who represents Burbank and the San Fernando Valley, said Apostol’s experience in working for equity and the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals and environmental quality “perfectly aligns with the work” she is championing in Sacramento.

Apostol, 24, who identifies as queer and non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, is helping to break new ground at the Capitol. “In any kind of institution, I’m often one of if not the first non-binary person that they have met,” Apostol said.

Apostol first heard the term non-binary when attending University of California at Berkeley and was grateful to have a place to explore their identity. “I was lucky to be in the Bay Area,” they said. “Having the freedom to safely explore your gender and sexuality is definitely not as common in other places yet.”

Apostol grew up in Irvine and was raised by a single mother who teaches biology and chemistry in high school. Apostol’s father struggled with a heroin addiction and spent much of his life interacting with and facing the long-term impacts of the criminal legal system. Even though he achieved sobriety, he died of liver cancer as a long-term effect of his addiction when Apostol was a teen. Though Apostol was close with their dad, they grew up with their mom at the center of their small family and considered her their biggest support and role model.

Apostol, 24, who identifies as queer and non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, is helping to break new ground at the Capitol.

Seeing their father struggle is part of what led to Apostol’s interest in public policy .“My dad was sober for so many years and only had drug-related offenses on his record. Even so, he struggled to get a job and to access adequate housing and healthcare into his 60s,” they said.

Apostol has a passion for ending mass incarceration, and working for equity of opportunity.

At UC Berkeley, Apostol majored in political science and got involved in organizing. They interned at Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, working on legal system reform, which they said rocked their world. The organization said on its web site that it organizes with “Black, Brown and low-income people to shift resources away from prisons and punishment, and towards opportunities that make our communities safe, healthy and strong.”

The center took Apostol and other interns to Sacramento to lobby, which gave them an appreciation of how much policy is happening at the state level.

Later, Apostol interned with the American Civil Liberties Union of California’s Center for Advocacy and Policy, where they worked on such issues as criminal justice reform, immigrant rights, reproductive justice and homeless advocacy.

From there, Apostol went on to work as a California State Assembly Fellow, where they got to work on policy and learn about the state’s government and policy history. Many who participate in the fellowships go on to work at the Legislature. One-third to one-half of the staff at the Capitol are former fellows, Apostol said.

During their fellowship, Apostol was placed as a fellow with Assemblymember Cecilia M. Aguiar-Curry, who is now vice chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, and with the Committee on Local Government.

Aguiar-Curry and Menjivar, who is lesbian and a member of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, have been wonderful mentors, said Apostol. “It feels like a huge privilege to get to be here and work with these people,” said Apostol, who believes it’s especially important to empower women and LGBTQ+ individuals through mentorships. “There are so many people that want to uplift young people. There are so many people in the Capitol community that want to help you.”

Apostol is proud to be working now on LGBTQ+-centered bills like Senate Bill 372, the Respect for Names Act. The bill eliminates the use of “deadnames” at the Dept. of Consumer Affairs for licensed professionals who have changed their legal names.

Apostol is also working on public safety, education and environmental quality issues (especially air quality), and helping Menjivar further her goals in prioritizing mental health and access to mental health services for youth.

“There are so many people that want to uplift young people. There are so many people in the Capitol community that want to help you.”

When they aren’t working, Apostol enjoys reading, hiking, going to museums, seeing theater and live music and spending time with their friends and their mother. Apostol and their mom have traveled frequently, visiting 30 countries.

While working in state public policy comes with the challenges of dealing with budget limitations and generating support and votes, Apostol plans to stay in the field for the foreseeable future.

“The work that we do in the Legislature has a huge impact on people,” they said. “It’s incredible to be able to make a difference in people’s lives.”

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