Updated December 2020 to reflect recent election results
It’s hard to come up with a group that is less represented in public office than LGBTQ people. If you take Santa Clara County, for example, with 2 million people, the percent of queer people serving on elected boards is about as close to zero as you can get. There are an estimated 298 local elected offices in the county that candidates can run for (city, county, school board, community college, special districts). Currently, there are 13 out LGBTQ elected officials.
Although a handful of LGBTQ people had run for office before, Ken Yeager finally broke through the lavender ceiling in November 1992 when he won a seat on the San Jose/Evergreen Valley Community College Board. His being gay became an issue when he unsuccessfully ran for State Assembly in 1996. A homophobic undercurrent existed when he ran for San Jose City Council in 2000, but he was able to win. He ran and won a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in 2006.
It took 13 years, from 1992 to 2005, to have the next two openly LGBTQ people be elected: Jamie McLeod to the Santa Clara City Council (the first lesbian) and John Lindner to the Franklin-McKinley School Board. (Note: Elections are in November of even years, but candidates take office in January of the following year. We have put the year they took office, not the year they won). From there, several people were able to be elected in at-large races for city council: Evan Low in Campbell in 2007; Rich Waterman in 2010; Chris Clark in Mountain View in 2013; and Rene Spring in Morgan Hill in 2017.
The list is shorter for school board. In addition to John Lindner, Omar Torres was elected to the Franklin-McKinley School Board in 2015 and Jorge Pacheco, Jr. to the Oak Grove School Board in 2020. Rounding out the field is Dennis Chiu to the El Camino Hospital Board and Shay Franco-Clauson appointed to the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority in 2017. Our rising LGBTQ political star Evan Low was elected to the State Assembly in 2007.
The 2020 election brought much hope for LGBTQ candidates, locally and nationally. As Michael Vargas documents in his San Jose Spotlight article (linked with the “Oak Grove Trio” story), there were 574 out LGBTQ candidates who ran across the country, with 160 being elected, many to top offices.
In Santa Clara County, there were a record-setting 9 people elected and 3 re-elected. The 2020 Class of newly elected officials includes: John Laird (State Senate) Alex Lee (State Assembly), Anthony Becker (Santa Clara City Council), Alysa Cisneros (Sunnyvale City Council), Beija Gonzales (Oak Grove School District), Carla Hernández (Oak Grove School District), Ivan Rosales Montes (Morgan Hill Unified School District), Jesus Salazar (Burbank School District), and Omar Torres (San Jose/Evergreen Community College Board). They join Evan Low (State Assembly) and Rene Spring (Morgan Hill City Council) who were re-elected, along with Shay Franco-Clausen (Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority) and Jorge Pacheco Jr. (Oak Grove School Board) who did not face re-election.
You may have noticed that “Oak Grove School District” shows up three times. That is because an amazing thing happened in the South San Jose K-8 school district: The five-member board now has a majority of three members who identify as LGBTQ. Who are these three queer members and how did this happen? Ken Yeager interviewed them, and their zoom conversation along with Ken’s article “Oak Grove Trio” are included below.
There were great strides in San Mateo County too. Lissette Espinoza-Garnica and Michael Smith won seats on the Redwood City Council and James Coleman won a seat on the South San Francisco City Council. They join San Carlos City Councilwoman Laura Parmer-Lohan, who was elected in 2019 and appointed mayor by the council on December 14.