Gail Reflects on Mac’s Club

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Queer Silicon Valley is proud to present an interview with one of the most influential people in the bar scene — Gail Chandler-Croll

Interview conducted by Ken Yeager

Author’s note: The interview with Gail Chandler-Croll, the owner of Mac’s Club, took place inside the bar on Post St. in the late morning of July 30. I had been wanting to interview her for a year as part of Queer Silicon Valley’s history of the bar scene. Standing behind the bar was longtime bar manager and friend Jim Michl, and off to the side was John Croll, Gail’s husband.

As Gail tells the story of Mac’s, she remarks that she is a straight woman who had never owned a bar, much less a gay one. She was looking for cash flow and the owner was looking for cash, so they struck a deal. That was in 1977. Soon later, she would also own Renegades from 1980 to 2006.

Gail referred to Mac’s as a sanctuary. “Through the years, people would come in to be with their friends, enjoy themselves, and be part of the community. It was a privilege to be part of that,” she said.

Harassment from the police was constant. There were ongoing raids, intimidations, and arrests, all without legitimate reason. Once, there was an undercover agent who pretended to be a patron – who later turn people in. Whenever the police cleared the bar, it had an obvious effect on business.

Then there were the years of AIDS when so many people were dying. She estimates she lost 40 friends to the disease. It got to the point where she could no longer attend funerals.

The drag queens and drag shows were always a highlight. “The outfits were beautiful, the make-up, the wigs. I never looked that good,” she laughed. “When we had the drag shows, everybody came.”

The old Mac’s had to close in 1998 due to changes in building codes from the Loma Prieta earthquake. The adjoining business in the building, Sal and Luigi’s pizza, also had the close. The building was later retrofitted and housed Brix’s gay bar and now the Continental bar.

She found a place for sale on Post St. in a 107-year-old building that she thought was intimate and similar to the old Mac’s. After they had bought the building, John Croll had gone to an auction and had bought the entire bar furnishing for $500. He was the only bidder.

Gail thinks the new location on Post St. has served the community well. She brags that it was there before Splash and before it was known as the Qmunity District. But now the time has come for her to sell the bar and move onto other projects.

Be sure to listen to two other interviews about the old and new Mac’s. One is with longtime bartender Rafael Hussin; the other from longtime manager Jim Michl. Listening to all three interviews will give people a picture of the bar scene that no longer exists today but which played an important role in creating a community for LGBTQ people in Silicon Valley. Much of that world has been lost as the number of gay bars has dwindled to three. Hopefully it doesn’t dwindle to two.

Thank you, Gail, for the interview and for the memories you gave to so many friends and patrons.

Speaking up About Marriage Equality

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A diverse group of leaders in Silicon Valley in 2010 explain why they strongly believe that the civil right to marry should be extended to committed same sex couples. These leaders come from business, government, law, religion, the arts and community service organizations. Their comments can help us articulate a powerful case for changing our culture to embrace same sex marriage and to promote the healthy families that such changes will allow. The film-making group became acquainted as Senior Fellows of the American Leadership Forum in Silicon Valley, an organization dedicated to joining and strengthening leaders for the common good.

Meet Silicon Valley’s First-Out Lesbian Mayor: Laura Parmer-Lohan

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An historic first occurred in the City of San Carlos on December 14, 2020, when Councilwoman Laura Parmer-Lohan was sworn in as mayor. Although it was not reported anywhere, when she raised her hand to take the oath of office, she (surprisingly) became the first out lesbian mayor of any city in either San Mateo or Santa Clara counties.

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As to the significance of her position, Laura said, “It is an honor and a privilege to serve as mayor for my community. I think it is important for people of diverse backgrounds and life experiences to have a seat at the dais. I am proud to have requested that the Pride Flag be raised in San Carlos during my first year in office. Many community members expressed their gratitude and one shared that he had not felt welcome in the thirty years that he had lived here until that day. This is the power of representation.”

As mentioned in the introduction of the Elected Officials section of Queer Silicon Valley, there are a stunningly low number of open LGBTQ+ officials in Silicon Valley. Although there have been a handful of gay men serving on city councils, the only other lesbian was Jamie McLeod, who served in the City of Santa Clara from 2005 to 2012. Unlike Laura, Jamie was never able to become mayor during her eight years on the council, because Santa Clara elects its mayor.

That approach is an outlier; most cities in the South Bay do not directly elect their mayors. Instead, the position rotates among individual councilmembers.

Silicon Valley’s gay mayors are in cities with a rotating system: Evan Low in Campbell (2010, 2014); Rich Waterman in Campbell (2014, 2019), Chris Clark in Mountain View (2014), and Daniel Yost in Woodside (2019).

No LGBTQ+ mayor in neither Santa Clara nor San Mateo counties has been directly elected by voters.

This even dates back to John Laird, who was as one of the country’s first openly gay officials when he was served on the Santa Cruz city council from 1981 to 1989. He earned his place in history when, in 1983, he became (along with mayors in Laguna Beach and Key West) the first gay mayors ever to serve—also due to a rotating mayor system.

Maybe 2021 will become the year of lesbian elected officials. Santa Cruz welcomed its first lesbian mayor in December 2020, when Donna Meyer was selected as mayor by the council. So whereas before there were no lesbian mayors across in the three counties, now there are two.

Laura already has her eyes set on her next trailblazing goal. In January 2021, she announced her campaign for a seat on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

If successful, she would be the first lesbian in this role, joining three other elected gay county supervisors—Tom Nolan and Rich Gordon in San Mateo County, and Ken Yeager in Santa Clara—who have each served as chair or president of their respective boards.

Watch Ken Yeager interview the newly-elected Mayor Laura Parmer-Lohan of San Carlos, California, in December 2020.

Oak Grove Trio

Oak Grove School Board members in conversation with Ken Yeager

The November 2020 election saw a historic “rainbow wave” of LGBTQ+ candidates running for office nationwide, but a Santa Clara County district school board took that one step further: a majority of its members are queer.`

Jorge Pacheco Jr., Carla Hernández and Beija Gonzalez will each openly serve as part of the five-member Oak Grove School Board, after the three millennials were either pulled out of the closet or “found out” while growing up queer in their Latinx, Afro-Latino and immigrant households.

The 30-, 27- and 24-year-olds primarily ran to better reflect the racial and cultural demographics of the district’s 10,000 students across 17 K-8 schools in South San Jose, but their successful campaigns also marked a shift in what it means—or doesn’t mean—to be a gay elected official.

Sexual orientation never came up in Beija nor Carla’s 2020 campaigns—a stark contract to the anti-gay rhetoric prevalent in 1992, when the first openly gay official was elected in the South Bay. At that time, some politicians even felt homosexuals deserved no legal or political standing in society.

The Oak Grove trio embodies a new generation of representation for LGBTQ+ youth. Instead of contending with homophobia in the form of housing, employment and social discrimination, students may still encounter internal turmoil at home while coming to terms with one’s sexuality, religion and culture.

That representation ensures LGBTQ+ perspectives will be heard during school board policy discussions about curriculum, educational disparities, mental health and physical wellness—all issues which disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ people.

This majority flip started with Jorge, a middle school ethnic studies and Spanish teacher, who ran in 2018 to fix the very system that failed him; he was years behind reading and writing by the 8th grade. In addition to competing against a four-year incumbent without earning any endorsements, he also met some pushback from voters who were concerned he would bring the “gay agenda” to schools.

The uncertainty of people’s reactions to his sexuality was one reason he never went canvassing alone, but defending his gay identity solidified his reason for running. He wanted to push for inclusivity policies, such as textbooks that teach LGBTQ+ history—the things no one besides queer people would advocate for—to increase understanding about the community.

Jorge was victorious at the ballot box, garnering more than half of the votes. He simultaneously become the inaugural gay and Latino, Indigenous and Asian Pacific Islander trustee—a shocking first, as Latino students account for half of the district’s enrollment.

After learning how to build coalitions and write resolutions, Jorge helped get ethnic studies courses approved for K-8th grade Oak Grove students within a year, in addition to recognizing Election Day as a district holiday and establishing a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee.

Jorge used the success, knowledge and connections he gained as a trustee to help open up the door for other LGBTQ+ candidates to follow his lead, including Beija and Carla.

Neither of the two women aspired to become school board members. However, they felt compelled to do so in order to provide a stronger voice at the table for their community, especially focusing on anti-racist and equitable work for future students.

Growing up poor at home with a single mother from Honduras, Carla’s love of reading propelled her to succeed in American society, eventually earning a full-ride to study science at the University of Pennsylvania. She later moved to San Jose to teach high school special education, in a conscious effort to live in a state with LGBTQ+ legal protections.

Before Carla ran for office, she was a successful campaign manager in 2018, but her otherwise outside political perspective initially made her nervous to serve the community the way it deserves. However, teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic and seeing struggles of students, teachers and staff first-hand diminished any reservations she had about not being good enough to craft policies for future students.

Voters agreed, and the 27-year-old pansexual Latina resoundingly defeated a one-term incumbent, earning nearly three-quarters of the votes.

Carla didn’t have an easy time coming out, once thinking her sexuality was a secret she would keep forever. She understood, however, that her perspective would be critical for students who may be having those difficult yet critical conversations, earning support through endorsements from BAYMEC and Stonewall Democrats along the way.

Unlike her educator colleagues, Beija works in tech as a data analyst, but had a background in grassroots organizing. After Mary Noel, a Black teacher and principal who served as an Oak Grove trustee for more than a decade, decided to step down, Beija didn’t see any representation for her Afro-Latino family in any of the other candidates.

The mother of two knew Noel’s shoes were big to fill, but decided to run for the board position to provide a voice for the priorities and concerns of the Oak Grove community, including her father who worked for the district. She fought for endorsements also embedded in South San Jose, securing key backing from the Santa Clara County Democratic Party, San Jose City Councilmember Sergio Jimenez and her future colleague, Jorge.

While being bisexual wasn’t a key facet of Beija’s campaign, being an openly queer elected official is a big step in countering the stigmas some people—including her parents—hold around being proud about sexual orientation.

That’s one goal of the new majority of queer board members serving the Oak Grove School District: dissipate homophobia and shame surrounding the LGBTQ+ community for future generations of students.

Further reading:

Santa Clara County Trans Leaders In Conversation

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Supervisor Ken Yeager interviews Sera Fernando, senior management analyst in Santa Clara County’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, and Jules Chyten-Brennan, medical director of the Gender Health Center, about Santa Clara County’s efforts in ensuring healthcare for transgender, gender-non-binary and gender expansive people.

Santa Clara County LGBTQ+ Equality Leaders in Conversation

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Supervisor Ken Yeager interviews Maribel Martinez, Director of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs, and David Campos, Deputy County Executive, about the county’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and Division of Equity and Social Justice.

Wiggsy Sivertsen

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Born Aimee Devereaux Sivertsen in Southern California, she has gone by Wiggsy since early childhood, after her sister mispronounced “wiggles” to describe her rambunctiousness. She graduated from San Jose State University in 1962, and later received a master’s degree in social work from Tulane University in New Orleans.

Wiggsy’s career as an activist and community leader began after she was outed and then fired while working as a counselor at the Peninsula Children’s Center in Palo Alto. This traumatizing event would later push her to get involved with community organizing.She had already been working part-time at San Jose State’s counseling center so she was able to join the university’s staff full time in 1968. She was SJSU’s first openly gay employee.

While Wiggsy was out at San Jose State, she was not active politically until 1977 when State Senator John Briggs authored an initiative that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in California public schools. She took an active part in the campaign to defeat the Briggs Initiative, which was on the November 1978 ballot as Proposition 6, making appearances on both radio and television.

As a result of the Briggs Initiative, Wiggsy’s public profile began to steadily rise. Over the next two decades she would become one of the most visible members of the Silicon Valley’s LGBTQ community.

One night in the summer of 1984 at the Toyon bar in San Jose, Wiggsy and Ken Yeager talked about the need for an LGBTQ political group. The two of them devised the outlines of a regional LGBTQ political action committee focused on Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties. The committee would eventually be known as the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee (BAYMEC), modeled after a similar organization in Southern California known as the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA).

Wiggsy heavily shaped how BAYMEC operated. She helped prepare their initial budget, was one of the signers of the first checks, and the architect of their endorsement policy for political candidates.

As a professor and counselor at San Jose State University, she campaigned against ROTC programs on campus because of the Defense Department’s discriminatory policies toward lesbians and gays. She was active in other ways on campus, too, including as a faculty advisor to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance and the Women’s Center. It was in these roles she counseled hundreds of students in the coming out process.

Wiggsy has been a tireless advocate, teaching classes to San Jose police officers about LGBTQ lifestyles, fighting for more programs for those who experienced domestic violence, advocating for LGBTQ seniors, being president of the California Faculty Union, and serving on the county’s Commission on the Status of Women, the Senior Commission, and the Human Rights Commission, to name a few. In 1988, she began teaching a sociology class at SJSU on gay and lesbian issues. In 1994, the university would establish a scholarship in her honor that focused on students who worked to support LGBTQ rights.

In short, there hasn’t been a single human rights issue that she hasn’t been involved in for the last half century.

Ken Yeager Proposes Santa Clara County Office of LGBTQ Affairs

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March 24, 2015 – Supervisor Ken Yeager proposes the establishment of a Santa Clara County Office of LGBTQ Affairs. The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Yeager’s referral, making Santa Clara County the first county in the United States with such an office.

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March 25th, 2015 headline of the San Jose Mercury News after Supervisor Ken Yeager proposes the Office of LGBTQ Affairs
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Continued story of “Plan for LGBTQ office praised”