California lawmakers installed their first openly gay Assembly Speaker on Monday, March 1.

Accompanied by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles singing Broadway show tunes, John Perez, a first generation Mexican Amer­ican, was sworn in to the leadership role in the California legislature.

The 40 year old Los Angeles Democrat and former labor activist is the cousin of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Perez must try to preserve what he can of California’s health and welfare services while reducing a nearly $20-billion budget deficit.

Supporters applauded Perez for his political instincts and intelligence. “He’s someone who sends a signal to the nation that being gay is no longer a barrier to greatness,” said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), who introduced the Speaker before he took the oath of office.

Perez has already gotten his hands dirty in the rough and tumble of Golden State politics. In one of his first acts as a leader, prior to assuming the post, he led the Assembly’s vote against confirming Governor Ar­nold Schwarzenegger’s choice for lieutenant gover­nor.