Ken had come to San Jose when he was 18 to start a new life away from conservative Riverside, where he knew he could not be openly gay. He graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in political science and held numerous jobs working on public policies to improve his adopted city.
It was in early 1984 when he picked up the Sunday San Jose Mercury News and read an opinion piece by a local state Assembly member Alister McAlister stating that homosexuals should have no legal, social, or political standing in society.
It was a remarkable statement. The Assemblyman, Alister McAlister, was urging then-Governor George Deukmejian (R) to veto Assembly Bill 1, the law passed by the Legislature that would make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. If such laws were passed, he argued, LGBTQ people would become a legitimate class deserving of legal protection. (Deukmejian did, in fact, veto the bill.)
Ken was well aware of the hatred and persecution that gay people faced but this was the first time someone had phrased it so bluntly: You are undeserving of the benefits provided by society. Putting the paper down, he said to himself: “Ken, if you don’t fight for your rights to be a part of this community then no one else will.” He came out publicly a week later in a Mercury News opinion piece denouncing McAlister and arguing for acceptance of gays and lesbians (the term that was used then) as full participants in society.
Thereafter, Ken co-founded BAYMEC—the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee—with Wiggsy Sivertsen. This political experience and work allowed Ken to run for San Jose/Evergreen Community College Board in 1992 and become the first openly gay elected official in Santa Clara County. In 2000, Ken ran for San Jose City Council and was elected. After winning reelection in 2004, he ran for Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in 2006 and won. He was reelected in 2010 and 2014.
During his time on the Board of Supervisors, Ken would create the Office of LGBTQ Affairs, the first such county office in the nation. With a staff of 7, the office has taken on a wide spectrum of issues to improve services to the LGBTQ community. After reaching term-limits, Ken has turned his attention back to BAYMEC through its Community Foundation.
- Video: Highlights from 3 Milestone Celebration
- The Making of a Candidate: A Personal Memoir (Book chapter from Trailblazers: Profiles of America’s Gay and Lesbian Elected Officials)
- Guest Opinion: The day I was told I didn’t belong in society (Bay Area Reporter)
- The Long Struggle for LGBTQ Equality in Santa Clara County (PDF)
- Battle Against HIV/AIDS: A Look Back at the First Decades of the Santa Clara County Experience (PDF)