Rich spent his childhood on the Peninsula before moving to Orange County for high school. He stayed in Southern California for college, at USC, before moving to the Midwest to attend divinity school at Northwestern. He was ordained as a Methodist minister and began working with homeless youth in inner city Chicago. He left the ministry rather than accept a transfer to a church near San Diego County’s massive Marine base at Camp Pendleton where he would mostly minister to suburban military families.
By this time, Rich knew his passion lay in helping those most in need, especially young people. He found a job doing social work through the YMCA, first in Orange County and then back on the Peninsula in Redwood City. He eventually formed a nonprofit group in San Mateo County—Youth and Family Assistance—that grew to have 60 employees and a $5 million annual budget.
Rich dated girls in high school and women in college. He would get married in 1974 to a woman he had met at a Methodist church in Southern California and who he had lived with for two years before marriage. However, by the time he was in his mid-30s he was ready to accept who he was. He undertook the difficult process of ending his marriage and coming out in 1982.
Rich had an early interest in politics. He was elected student body president in high school. His work with the YMCA and in the nonprofit sphere had already exposed him to public policy at the local level. Then, he began to get involved with the nascent LGBTQ political movement on the Peninsula. He became very active with the Peninsula Business Guild, a gay business group, and in late August 1984 Doug De Young introduced him at one of the founding meetings of the BAYMEC board. In September, he was elected to the board, and in 1985 he became BAYMEC’s president.
In 1992, Rich would run for San Mateo County Board of Education and win. Later in 1997, Rich was elected to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and in 2010 to the State Assembly, representing the heart of Silicon Valley – including parts of both San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. In the Assembly, he would spend more than four years as chair of the influential Rules Committee. In 2012, he was chosen to chair the full Legislature’s LGBTQ caucus, which would include two successive Assembly speakers during his tenure: John Perez and Toni Atkins. He would remain caucus chair until term limits forced him out of the Assembly.
In July 2017, Rich was named President and CEO of the California Forestry Association.