Provided by the Silicon Valley Stonewall Democrats
The Silicon Valley Stonewall Democrats was founded in 2003 as the Silicon Valley LGBT Democratic Club. At the time, Silicon Valley was the only major metropolitan region in the country without an LGBT Democratic Club, and Clark Williams was committed to changing that. With an anti-LGBTQ “marriage” amendment to the U.S. Constitution on the horizon, Williams pulled together a group of activists including David Parker, Evan Low, Doug Winslow, and Ray Mueller at the Billy DeFrank LGBT Center to organize.
“We really recognized that there was a vacuum of political engagement on LGBTQ rights,” said Evan Low. “Support from the Democratic Party was not guaranteed, but we felt that, in order to survive, we needed to change that. We needed to create a home for ourselves within the Democratic Party.” The SV LGBT Democratic Club formed to fill that void, and to push a resistant local Democratic Party, already the dominant political Party in Silicon Valley, to recognize the rights of LGBTQ people.
The club had a number of early successes. In response to pressure from the SV LGBT Democratic Club the Santa Clara County Democratic Party included support for same-sex marriage in their candidate questionnaire and party platform for the first time in 2004, putting them almost a decade ahead of the national Democratic Party. The club also organized one of the first bus trips to Reno, NV to canvass for then-Presidential candidate, John Kerry. The group was also deeply committed to intersectional activism from the start, advocating for reforms to the San Jose Police Department’s taser policy in 2005.
But the group never shied away from its central mission of creating space for LGBTQ people within the local party. “We were deeply committed to the politics of addition,” said Clark Williams, who served as the first President of the club. “When you walked in, you were welcome. And people stayed because we made it fun.”
The group was also extremely effective at getting the first class of LGBTQ+ people elected to office in Santa Clara County. In 2004, Jamie McLeod credited the group for her election to the Santa Clara City Council. In 2006, the group was instrumental in getting its President, the twenty-six-year-old political wunderkind, Evan Low, elected to the Campbell City Council. From there Low would eventually become Mayor of Campbell and then join the State Assembly in 2014. The group was also a major supporter of Ken Yeager who won election to the San Jose Community College Board in 1992, then the San Jose City Council in 2000, and then became the first gay person elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in 2006.
Not all of their early candidates were successful. Clark Williams ran for San Jose City Council in 2006 also but narrowly lost by just a few dozen votes. However, Williams went on to become the first openly LGBTQ elected leader of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party in 2007, when he was elected Vice-Chair.
During this time, the group was also focused on holding anti-LGBTQ Democrats accountable. The Club was a major opponent of Councilmember and then Mayor, Chuck Reed, who maintained his anti-LGBTQ stances and policies even as other big city mayors started to support LGBTQ rights. In 2006, the SV LGBT Democratic Club opposed Chuck Reed’s anti-LGBTQ campaign for Mayor, and in subsequent years, the Club was also a major opponent of a number of anti-LGBTQ candidates supported by Mayor Chuck Reed.
However, the 2008 election cycle was a struggle for the organization, as the No on Prop 8 campaign sapped people’s time and energy. After 2008, the election of Barack Obama at the national level and the path breaking work of Ken Yeager at the County level moved LGBTQ+ progress out of the streets and into the halls of government. A series of Presidents including Gloria Nieto and David Parker, kept the Club alive during the transformative Obama years, during which time LGBTQ+ progress jumped ahead in many areas, however, progress in government slowed activism in the streets.
In the wake of President Trump’s election and his disastrous anti-LGBTQ+ policies, LGBTQ+ activists within the Democratic Party revived the organization in 2017, this time as the Silicon Valley Stonewall Democrats. The revived organization, founded by Omar Torres, Jeffrey Cardenas, and Shay Franco-Clauson, would be dedicated to fighting for a pro-LGBTQ+ agenda within the Santa Clara County Democratic Party, and ensuring that LGBTQ+ people would have a voice in the local Democratic Party.
In 2019, with LGBTQ+ residents of the County becoming more politically aware and agitating for change in the face of anti-LGBTQ policies at the national level, the leadership of SV Stonewall decided to expand the scope of the organization, stepping out from the shadow of the Democratic Party and working on grassroots organizing and mobilizing the community for pro-LGBTQ+ policies.
In 2020, under the leadership of Ray Mueller and Michael Vargas, SV Stonewall set an ambitious goal of dramatically expanding its membership, increasing the number and diversity of its leadership team, and endorsing candidates for elected office for the first time since the early years of the Club. “We need a renewed focus on community organizing and activism if we hope to regain the progress of the Obama years,” said Michael Vargas. “The old way of doing things isn’t enough anymore. We need to demand action with our feet, our voices, and our bodies.”
In the summer of 2020, SV Stonewall conducted its first round of candidate endorsements, throwing the weight of its growing organizing machine behind a number of talented and progressive LGBTQ+ candidates. Harkening back to the founding of the group in 2004, many people in SV Stonewall’s first class of endorsed LGBTQ+ candidates are looking to be the first LGBTQ+ person on their city council or school board. “What we’re seeing is a new wave of LGBTQ+ candidates who aren’t just going to be allies,” said Ray Mueller, himself a former candidate for Alum Rock Union School Board. “Over the next decade, these are going to be the transformative leaders in the Valley, and in the wake of Trump’s Presidency, we are going to need transformative LGBTQ+ leaders.”