Provided by BAYMEC
In 1984, the local LGBTQ community was still reeling from the 1980 repeal of city and county ordinances which would have given gays and lesbians protection in housing and employment. In a mean-spirited and homophobic campaign, the fundamentalists used such slogans as “Don’t let it spread,” “Vote no for the sake of our children,” and “Enough is enough” to sway voters not to support the ordinances. We were defeated badly at the voting booths, by a stunning three to one margin. To state it another way to absorb the full meaning: 75% of the voters thought gays and lesbians should not have any civil protections.
So stunning was the result that it sent the local gay political movement under a rock. For more about this, read more on Measure A and B campaign
It was in this political and moral wasteland that in1984 Ken Yeager and Wiggsy Sivertsen founded BAYMEC—the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee—a political action committee (PAC). They knew no one was asking our elected officials where they stood on our issues, nor holding them accountable for their votes. Forming a political action committee that fought for the rights of gays and lesbians would be the best way to help our political friends and to fight our political enemies. It was daunting task.
There were many people who were of great help in the early years, especially our original board members. Along with Wiggsy and Ken, there were Doug DeYoung, Rich Gordon, John Laird, Rosalie Nichols, Rick Rudy, and Ron Taylor, each bringing their own talents and constituencies to the organization.
November 1984 was the first election BAYMEC participated in. We dutifully sent out our questionnaire to candidates running for local, state, and federal office. As a sign of how politically toxic LGBTQ people were, only a few candidates returned the questionnaire. In practical terms, this meant we were a political organization whose purpose was to endorse candidates yet almost no one wanted our endorsement. Deciding that wouldn’t do, Ken and Wiggsy got on the phone and kindly asked some stalwart liberal Democrats to accept our endorsement, which they did, so at least we had 5 candidates to endorse.
To get a sense of how things have changed, fast forward to the annual dinners held over the ensuing years. The tonga line of candidates and elected officials in attendance stretches about 50 people long, with everyone waiting to step up to the center stage podium to announce their name and their office. No one cares how long it takes because it shows how far we’ve come.
The access BAYMEC has with all Santa Clara, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties elected officials indicates to our contributors to their campaigns over the years have paid high dividends. Many PACs give money to politicians, but few are on a first-name basis with all the recipients. BAYMEC has an excellent working relationship with almost all local elected officials and can count on them to support fairness and equity.
Over the many decades, BAYMEC has been on the forefront of the most important political and social issues of the day. In 1986, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was just beginning to pave its deadly path through the community, killing so many people, particularly young gay men. BAYMEC fought successfully for county funds for supportive services for AIDS patients and the creation of an AIDS Task Force.
The 1986 AIDS quarantine initiative, better known as Prop. 64 or the Lyndon LaRouche initiative—was the major focus of BAYMEC in August until the November election. Given the defeats of Measures A and B and the devastation that AIDS was having on the community, the BAYMEC board put all its resources into the campaign. Thankfully, the proposition lost statewide, as well as in all three counties coordinated by BAYMEC.
In addition to wanting the initiative to be soundly defeated, BAYMEC saw the campaign as a way to bring the community together after the Measures A and B catastrophes. People needed to feel empowered, so BAYMEC encouraged people to hold coffees and talk to friends and neighbors to raise money and bring awareness. People also needed to be trained to be political organizers. Bennet Marks, who volunteered on the campaign, was so inspired by his political activism that he was inspired to start a gay employee group at Apple: Apple Lambda.
The early years were very busy, trying to get much need non-discrimination ordinances passed at the local level, since no state of federal laws existed. First there was an ordinance to ban discrimination against persons with AIDS/HIV. Then we began to work with our state delegation to gain passage of a law which would add sexual orientation language to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. This was followed by successfully lobbying the San Jose City Council to include bereavement leave for domestic partners. Then came domestic partner benefits for city and county employees, followed by providing spousal benefits to city employees who legally married their same-sex partners in another jurisdiction.
Many other issues kept coming along the way: Police and fire LGBTQ sensitivity training; lobbying for proclamations for gay pride; getting community members appointed to city and county committees; electing pro-gay candidates to office; supporting gay marriage and fighting Prop. 6, the anti-gay marriage initiative; holding a vigil in remembrance of lives lost at the Pulse Nightclub; and joining other groups in support of Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter.
In 2013 shortly after a marriage equality decision, during BAYMEC’s annual dinner at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, attendees were surprised with two simultaneous same-sex weddings during the dinner program. Ken Yeager performed the marriages to lesbian and gay couples, giving guests an up-close and emotional look at the newly won rights in action.
BAYMEC’s endorsement process vets candidates for office on LGBTQ issues and verifies histories of support for the LGBTQ community. A BAYMEC endorsement serves as a guide for voters who value equality. Fundraising efforts are put to use, making donations to endorsed candidates and in independent expenditure mail campaigns sending material directly to voters in competitive priority races.
Enjoying a reputation for fairness, BAYMEC has been able to host a number of high profile debates, including the only debate conducted in the highly contested Santa Clara County District Attorneys race in 2008 held at the Billy DeFrank Community Center. The event brought LGBTQ issues front and center in the election of this critical role.
Candidates for office supporting anti-LGBTQ policies continued into the 2000s. BAYMEC let the fight to defeat candidates for San Jose City Council in 2014 with far-right values action council candidate Larry Pegram and in 2016 Steve Brown, who believed businesses should be able to refuse to serve LGBTQ customers under religious protections.
With fewer attacks on our community, BAYMEC was able to become pro-active and successfully lobbied the cities of Santa Clara and Sunnyvale, and various local school districts, on sexual orientation discrimination and AIDS/HIV status issues.
Many BAYMEC board members and volunteers have gone on to create meaningful change in the community in various roles. Through BAYMEC board member advocacy, the San Jose Police Department became the first police agency to raise the rainbow flag over its headquarters during pride, was the first an still only police agency to feature same-sex families in a police recruiting campaign and was the only police agency to support AB2504 (Low) a bill signed into law requiring LGBTQ awareness training for all police officers and dispatchers in California.
News outlets frequently turn to BAYMEC board members for comment when LGBTQ issues emerge in the community. BAYMEC’s longest-serving board member is co-founder Wiggsy Sivertson who has remained on the board continuously for 35 years and remains active today.
Current Board Members:
- Drew Loyd – President
- Jeremy Avila – Vice President
- Michael Lomio – Secretary
- Dawn Cieslik – Treasurer
- Wiggy Sivertson – co-founder
- James Gonzales – Past President
- Maureen Heath
- BJ Fadem
- Sandip Patel
- Stewart Rosentein
- Bonnie Sugiyama
- Mario Lopez
- Rich Poppin