Santa Barbara attorney fights for equality in California 

By Jorge Mercado 

Staff Writer

When Beth Collins was 18, she came out as a lesbian, a moment that meant a lot to her, even if she wasn’t sure what the future would hold.

At the time, in 1990, same-sex
marriage was not legal and members of the LGBTQ community still faced
homophobia in all facets of life.

“I think I wanted to work for a better world, for sure, at 18,” Collins said. “I’m not sure I knew what I wanted exactly, but I have always been interested in making the world a better place.”

Collins, now 50, is a lawyer and a shareholder at Brownstein Hyatt
Farber Schreck in Santa Barbara. She also sits on the executive committee of the Equality California Institute, a nonprofit that runs a number of programs to help members of the LGBTQ community.

One of those programs is the Safe & Supportive Schools Report Card, which looks at what California’s unified school
districts are doing to
support LGBTQ students and school staff. According to the Equality California Institute, 50% of LGBTQ kids in California have been bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And, 4 in 10 kids who are homeless nationwide identify as LGBTQ.

In order to help these kids, Equality California connects people with shelters, doctors and other adults who can help them.

“It’s critical these resources exist,” Collins said. “It’s a lifeline for some of the most at-risk people. Think of a homeless youth living on the street, they need the support, they need to be able to get health care, they need to be able to have a place to live. These kids were not accepted at home, and so they end up on the street, and so it’s important they find resources that are safe for them and aren’t going to create new problems.”

Equality California also works with doctors, teachers and even the police to try to
educate them on the problems members of the LGBTQ community face.

“We are trying to change attitudes in school and make it more LGBTQ positive and we’re trying to have health care providers and those other places to have the cultural competency and the training to be able to help those at risk,” Collins said.

Equality California also tries hard to represent everyone in the LGBTQ community. While white LGBTQ people face unfair and unkind treatment, people of color have their own set of problems.

In fact, Equality California found the majority of LGBTQ people in California are people of color or immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

Right now, the LGBTQ community is
facing a lot of fear that decades of progress could be undone. The leaked draft of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion a matter for state law has many observers worried that court
decisions upholding same-sex marriage and other rights could be in danger.

“It’s disappointing,” Collins said. “I have two kids and I want them to be able to live in a world where they can love whoever they want, and they can be whoever they want. It’s terrifying to think of all the things that can be unwound,” Collins said. “I am also saddened that people feel like me having my rights and my freedom impinges on their lives.”

Equality California Institute’s tagline is “Until the work is done.” Collins recalled back during the Barack Obama’s two terms as president, from 2008 to 2016, she heard from some people “well, isn’t the work done?”

“Even back then it wasn’t,” she said. “We have a lot of issues still in a lot of places, but for sure now, it’s isn’t done and it won’t be done for a while.”