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Assembly Speaker John Perez's message of hope for gays

November 24, 2010 |  1:43 pm

In the wake of several high-profile suicides of young gay people, Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) is using the Thanksgiving holiday to deliver a simple message to California's gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders: It gets better.

"When I was a teenager, I never thought I'd be able to live a happy and successful life as an openly gay man," Perez says in a video. "And now I have the privilege of serving in one of the top positions in California government."

The spot is part of the "It Gets Better" project started by syndicated columnist Dan Savage, in which adults address youths who are struggling with their sexuality. President Obama and various celebrities have filmed messages for the project.

Perez, the state's first openly gay Assembly speaker, tells the story of coming out to his parents during Thanksgiving break while attending UC Berkeley, where he had fallen in love with another student.

"I had known for a while that I was gay," he says in his video, "but growing up in a very traditional community on the east side of L.A. meant that coming out would make my life very difficult and possibly dangerous."

He describes a stomach-churning trip to Los Angeles for the holiday. Once there, he postponed the news throughout the weekend and packed his bags early, bracing for the worst reactions. On Sunday, before leaving for school, he spoke to his parents.

"The first words out of my mouth were, 'I'm sorry,'" he says. "I must have said that 50 times. Then finally I told them the two words that would have such enormous implications: 'I'm gay.'"

With his mother and father in tears, he left, emotionally exhausted. He said he returned to school to find two answering-machine messages of support from his parents.

-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento