Unlike a lot of gay high school students, Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, didn’t get picked on for being gay. Of course, it helped that he was a big, strong, football player – and had yet to admit his sexuality to himself.
“No,” Perez said, when asked if he was bullied when he was younger. “I could always kick anybody’s ass who tried to do that.”
But he was very intimidated by one prospect — coming out to his parents over Thanksgiving weekend nearly two decades ago.
In the wake of several high profile suicides by young gay people in recent months, Perez decided to film a YouTube spot for the “It Gets Better” campaign to stop suicides among young gay people.
The campaign was started in September by sex-advice columnist Dan Savage in the wake of several high profile suicides by young people who had been bullied for being gay. The most widely publicized of these was the case of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who threw himself off of a bridge after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, posted a video online showing Clementi kissing another young man.
Perez specifically mentioned Clementi’s death in a letter he sent Tuesday to the University of California Board of Regents and the California State University Trustees asking for a meeting in which they could clarify their policies for protecting at-risk youth.
In fact, Perez said he came out while a student at UC Berkeley in 1991. He was attending a political meeting and someone made a comment along the lines of “What have the gays ever done for us?” Suddenly, he said, he found himself coming out to a room of 300 people.
In the spot he recorded Tuesday, Perez tells of how he soon found himself heading back down to Los Angeles for the long holiday weekend. He told himself he was going to tell his parents as soon as he got down there. Then it was Friday. Then it was Sunday, minutes before he had to leave, when he finally sat his parents down and told them. Perez said their reaction at the time was pretty muted, but that when he got back to his dorm room, there were messages from both of them, telling him that they loved him no matter what.
Hundreds of people around the country have recorded similar “It Gets Better” spots, including young gay celebrities such as “Glee” cast member Chris Colfer and American Idol singing star Adam Lambert.
Several Sacramento-based groups got together to create a booth on Nov. 7 where people could record messages for the campaign — a booth that was set up in the lobby of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Midtown Sacramento during the 12th Annual Day of Remembrance. During this ceremony, members of the LGBT community and their allies read the names of 750 people who were murdered because they were gay, or were believed to be gay.
Perez is the first openly gay Speaker in California history and one of the highest ranking gay elected officials ever. And, he has noted, the words “openly-gay” have followed him everywhere, serving as a kind of title before his name in many of the news stories that have run since he was first elected to a political office. But even once he stopped denying his sexuality, it remained an issue.
“You hear some of the most horrific stuff coming from people who don’t know you’re gay. Sometimes it’s malicious, sometimes it’s naïve. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to come out.”
He added: “The reality is, coming out is a never-ending process.”