Santa Clara County Office of LGBTQ Affairs

Provided by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs

The Santa Clara County Office of LGBTQ Affairs first opened its doors in January of 2016 with the advocacy of Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager. It is the first county-level office of its kind, both in California and nationwide. The office was founded with the intention of providing support to the LGBTQ+ community living in Santa Clara County, as well as acting as a central resource hub on LGBTQ+ affairs.

The need for the office came after then-President of the Board of Supervisors Ken Yeager called for a health assessment of the LGBTQ+ community in his January 2013 State of the County address. The assessment was completed in December 2013. Not surprising, the report concluded that there was a significant need for more services for the LGBTQ+ community due to health disparities, homelessness, mental health issues, lack of transgender medical services, etc. Upon release of the report, Supervisor Yeager called for the creation of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which was approved by the entire board.

Maribel Martínez was appointed director of the office in 2016. She has spent the last 20 years working with various nonprofits in Santa Clara County dealing with issues ranging from education reform, community safety measures, social services, and healthcare outreach, to public policy. For nine years, she served as the founding director of the Associated Students Cesar Chavez Community Action Center at San José State University.

The mission of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs is to provide leadership and support for the well-being and longevity of LGBTQ+ communities in Santa Clara County through coordinated, integrated approaches. The Office has grown significantly from its founding, and currently supports seven staff members who work on a vast array of policy work, programs, and coalition building centered on supporting LGBTQ communities to thrive and for County offices and services to be LGBTQ inclusive. The office also engages in crucial research projects which are used to implement community-level changes to support the lives of LGBTQ+ people.

One example of the Office’s work is the integration of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) data collection into existing health care systems. The 2013 LGBTQ Health Assessment found that many people do not feel comfortable talking about their sexual orientation or gender identity with their physician, which leads to many folks either receiving inadequate care, or avoiding interactions with the healthcare system altogether. SOGIE data collection is a strategy used to normalize and destigmatize the process of asking for this personal information with the goal of providing a more welcoming and culturally competent doctor-patient experience.

The Office also worked with local graphic designer Benny O’Hara, who reimagined the “SOGIE Genderbread Person” as the “SOGIE Astronaut” to illustrate the diversity of identities and experiences as “a galaxy of limitless possibilities.” This graphic is now displayed on workstations at the Valley Medical Center to help remind staff about the importance of SOGIE data collection.

More recently, the Office has been working to support the collection of complete and accurate Census data in order for LGBTQ+ people to be counted and to better serve the community. Multiple other programs cover a diverse range of topics, including homelessness, healthcare, support for schools, juvenile justice, employment, all-gender restrooms, and more. One example is SupportOUT, an initiative across the Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Probation, and Social Services Agency that aims to address the inequities faced by justice-involved LGBTQ+ youth of color and to create more robust and responsive support systems.

The Office has also continued their research with two current projects, both focused on gathering community input to identify priorities and gaps in resources to inform making recommendations to address them. The first of these projects is the upcoming development of a survey with consultant Dr. Karen Goldsen, and in collaboration with the Santa Clara Social Services Agency – Department of Aging and Adult Services, which aims to collect data about the health and well-being of the elderly LGBTQ+ community.

The second project is being carried out with the help of consultant Danielle Castro, MA, MFT who conducted participatory action research with intergenerational transgender communities in Santa Clara County. All of the office’s research endeavors and programs are conducted with the goal of promoting equity and justice for LGBTQ+ lives in Santa Clara County.

In addition to administering robust programming, policy, and research endeavors, the Office of LGBTQ Affairs acts as a resource center for Santa Clara County. The Office facilitates cultural competency training and workshops with community organizations and County departments in their workplace, provides custom consultations with organizations, supports community members to receive LGBTQ+ competent support navigating County services, and otherwise provides connections and referrals between community members and the appropriate LGBTQ+ inclusive resources for their needs.

The Office’s website includes a wealth of information to assist people of many diverse backgrounds. All of this work is made possible by the dedicated staff of the Office whose training and talents present an impressive range of expertise. In addition to Maribel Martínez, the current staff members of the office are:

The founding of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs marks an historic moment for Santa Clara County as the first county-level government office explicitly dedicated to the health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community. The continued success of this office ensures that the needs of the community will always have a strong advocate in the governmental body of Santa Clara County.

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