George Raya '72 (Government)
Gay rights crusader
George Raya can trace the start of his reputation as one of the founding fathers of gay rights to his formative years at Sac State.
“I came out when I was 19 years old. At that time, I was on the student senate which proved helpful in fighting to establish the first club for gay students,” Raya says.
He says the group of 20, “were determined but we were also frightened. At our first meeting, every time we heard a knock on the door, we were afraid it was the police coming to arrest us.”
Raya and other club founders received a great deal of support, but also strong resistance. After taking their fight to court, the Society for Homosexual Freedom found its place on the campus.
“Through the club, we worked to demystify homosexuality,” Raya says. “Our message was we were the same as everyone else.”
After graduation, Raya attended UC Berkeley where he made critical ties to gay activists in the Bay Area. In 1974, he became the first full-time gay rights legislative advocate in Sacramento.
Raya’s first victory was AB 489, the “Consenting Adults Bill” authored by Assemblymember Willie Brown. The reform legalized sex between consenting adults and opened the door to gay rights legislation.
Raya says, “We wanted to advance gay rights when there were none.”
The passage of the bill was the conduit to a historic meeting at the White House in 1977. For the first time in history, a president allowed a formal discussion of gay rights in the White House. Raya was one of 14 activists chosen to participate.
“The results of that three-hour meeting led to many important federal policy changes that altered the lives of gays and lesbians for the better,” Raya says.
A case manager for the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance,
Raya continues to participate in causes close to his heart. He is a board member of Sacramento’s Capital Crossroads Gay Rodeo Association (www.capitalcrossroads.org) and is a member of the Sacramento Parks and Recreation Commission.
Raya says, “I’ve worked on national and state issues, and now I want to work with my neighbors on concerns closer to home.”
This article was originally published in the Winter 2008 edition of Sac State Magazine.