CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER. ENVIRONMENTAL CHAMPION. FIGHTING FOR US.
Rick Chavez Zbur has spent his life fighting for equality and justice — for LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, communities of color and faith and people living with HIV. Justice for our planet and for the communities most impacted by pollution and climate change. Economic justice for working families and our most vulnerable. Criminal justice and gun safety reform. Health justice for everyone.
Rick grew up in a rural farming community in the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico, the same area that his mother Erlinda Chavez and her family lived for generations. His father Richard Thomas Zbur dropped out of high school to work in a union job in the steel mills of Chicago to help support his family. He joined the Air Force and served in the Korean War. After the war, he earned his high school diploma, and moved to New Mexico, where he met and married Rick’s mother. Because of the G.I. Bill, Rick’s father was able to go to college in New Mexico and ultimately earned a PhD and became a college professor. When Rick was in 5th grade, his family moved back to New Mexico to care for his aging grandparents Josefina and Francisco Chavez.
On the farm, Rick’s parents taught him the values of hard work, commitment to family and service to community. He and his siblings worked before and after school on the family farm and helped care for their grandparents. Rick spent summers in high school as a mentor for children with muscular dystrophy and volunteering to rebuild a church burned by an arsonist.
Rick ultimately became the first person in his rural community to attend an Ivy League university. After graduating from Yale College and Harvard Law School, Rick moved to Los Angeles in 1985 and joined Latham & Watkins, one of the nation’s most respected law firms. There he practiced law for over 25 years, became a partner in 1994 and was recognized as one of California’s leading environmental and government law attorneys.
Community service has always been a key part of Rick’s life and career. As a gay man, Rick saw scores of his friends become ill during the initial years of the AIDS crisis, which motivated him to become an AIDS activist at a time when our federal government was failing to act. He worked to help elect public officials including President Clinton and Senator Barbara Boxer, among others, who would respond to the crisis with urgency. He joined the national board of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, understanding that addressing the AIDS crisis required a focus on the lack of civil rights for LGBTQ+ people. He helped found the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation and served as its board vice chair for many years. Rick is strongly pro-choice, and today serves on the board of Planned Parenthood – Los Angeles.
As an environmental lawyer, Rick has been a statewide leader advocating for the environment and the urgency of addressing climate change. He has served on the Board of the California League of Conservation Voters, now renamed as California Environmental Voters, for over 20 years — as president for six of those years. As board president, Rick helped shape the organization’s priorities to address environmental justice and a focus on vulnerable communities that are hardest hit by pollution, and to advance sustainable housing and green job programs to address climate change.
A lifelong progressive Democrat, Rick was a candidate for Congress in 1996 in California’s 38th Congressional District. Rick decided to run at a time when Congressional Republicans had launched their “Contract with America,” which proposed deep cuts in the social safety net, and the weakening of America’s environmental protections. He ran because he wanted to fight to preserve Social Security, Medicare, environmental protections, and programs that working and vulnerable Americans and his own family rely on. When he won the Democratic primary in March 1996, Rick made history as the first openly LGBTQ+ non-incumbent in the nation’s history to win a contested congressional primary.
In 2014, Rick left his law firm to become the Executive Director of Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization. At Equality California, he directed his legal skills to civil rights work. He led the organization through a period of significant growth and an expansion of its mission to include advancing civil rights and social justice for the diverse communities to which LGBTQ+ people belong — communities of color, communities of faith, immigrants, women and people living with HIV. Under Rick’s leadership, Equality California has fought to protect and provide healthcare to immigrant communities, enact commonsense gun safety and criminal justice reform, defend workers’ rights and raise the minimum wage to $15, provide universal healthcare coverage, protect reproductive choice and healthcare and finally end the ineffective and broken death penalty system.
Rick lives in Los Angeles and is the proud co-parent of a 17 year-old daughter and 13 year-old twins, who attend public schools.