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O’Connor Leaving EQCA

by Seth Hemmelgarn
Monday Apr 28, 2014

John O'Connor is set to leave Equality California a year and a half after he became the statewide LGBT lobbying group's executive director, the organization said in a surprise announcement April 22.

EQCA board member Rick Zbur, a senior partner with the law firm of Latham and Watkins, will replace O'Connor, who will leave in July. Zbur will begin leading EQCA full time September 1.

In an interview, O'Connor, 43, cited personal reasons for his departure.

"Jobs like these, and this job in particular, are exhausting," said O'Connor, who among other previous posts was the founding director of the California Hall of Fame. "They take me all over the state constantly, with huge amounts of responsibility, so there are pieces of my personal life that have fallen into neglect." Specifically, there's "a matter involving a family member," he said. He didn't want to share details. He's not leaving for a different job.

O'Connor joined EQCA in December 2012 as the nonprofit was experiencing turmoil. The organization had been without a permanent leader for more than a year, following the abrupt departure of Roland Palencia, who lasted just three months in the position.

The group's finances were shaky, and EQCA seemed to have lost its way after Geoff Kors, who led it for almost a decade, stepped down in March 2011. Like many other nonprofits, EQCA had also seen a drop in contributions in recent years.

O'Connor, whose salary is about $150,000, started working immediately to rebuild the organization. During his time at EQCA, O'Connor sought to develop new funding sources, reorganized staff, and initiated programing to help enroll uninsured LGBT people under the Affordable Care Act rollout.

Among other EQCA-backed bills that became law during O'Connor's tenure was Assembly Bill 1266, which aims to make sure that transgender youth can fully participate in all school activities, sports teams, programs, and facilities that match their gender identity. Anti-gay activists have failed in their efforts to repeal the law.

O'Connor also led the organization at a time when marriage equality advocates saw a monumental shift. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court essentially killed the state's Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban and struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Zbur, 57, has also garnered attention over the years. In 1996, he ran for Congress against incumbent Steve Horn, a Republican, in what was then California's 38th Congressional District. He became the first openly gay, non-incumbent to win a contested primary for U.S. Congress, but Horn ultimately defeated him.

Zbur is president and chair of the board of the California League of Conservation Voters, a position he'll maintain.

In EQCA's news release, Zbur said, "My focus will be on the organization's core mission of achieving full and lasting equality for LGBT people through smart and effective legislation, education and outreach, and building and expanding our community's political power."

EQCA's budget is $3.5 million. That includes expenses for the nonprofit's educational affiliate the Equality California Institute.

Steve Roth, an EQCA spokesman, said Zbur's salary "will be in line" with what the group's paid its former executive directors, but he declined to share the specific figure.

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