LGBTQ+ REPRESENTATION IN SANTA CLARA AND SAN MATEO COUNTIES
Updated January 2023 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 percentage 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, and special districts). Currently, there are 15 out LGBTQ elected officials in Santa Clara County and 4 in San Mateo County.
A little history:
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 2011; Chris Clark in Mountain View in 2013; and Rene Spring in Morgan Hill in 2017.
The list was 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 was Dennis Chiu to the El Camino Hospital Board and Shay Franco-Clausen 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. Jordan Eldridge was elected to the Rancho Rinconada Recreation and Park District in 2011 and 2019. Nancy Magee was elected as Superintendent of San Mateo County schools in 2018.
The 2020 election brought much hope for LGBTQ candidates, locally and nationally. In Santa Clara County, there were a record-setting 9 people elected and 3 re-elected. The 2020 Class of newly elected officials included: 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.
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 joined San Carlos City Councilwoman Laura Parmer-Lohan, who was elected in 2019 and appointed mayor by the council on December 14.
2022 proved to be a good year for local LGBTQ candidates. One of the highlights was the election of Omar Torres to San Jose City Council Seat #3. With his victory, he became the first out Latino to be elected to the council. Also successful were JR Fruen (Cupertino City Council), Richard Mehlinger (Sunnyvale City Council), Jaria Jaug (Berryessa Union School District), and Chris Sturken (Redwood City Council). A hearty congratulations to you all.
Including the Class of 2022, there are now 19 openly LGBTQ elected officials serving in both counties. This is the most we have ever had serving at one time, but, certainly, we need more. The 2024 election is around just around the corner, so the time to think about running for office is approaching. I’m sure any current or former elected official would be pleased to talk about it with you.
Santa Clara County
- Franklin-McKinley School Board (2004-2018)
- Santa Clara City Council (2004-2012)
- Campbell City Council (2006-2014)
- Mayor (2010, 2014)
- California State Assembly (2014-present)
- Campbell City Council (2010-2014, 2016-2020)
- Mayor (2014, 2019)
- Rancho Rinconada Recreation and Park District Board Member (2010-2014, 2019-2020)
- El Camino Hospital Board (2012-2017)
- Mountain View City Council (2012-2020)
- Mayor (2014)
- Franklin-McKinley School Board (2014-2018)
- Trustee, San Jose/Evergreen Valley Community College District (2021-2022)
- San Jose City Council (2023-present)
- Morgan Hill City Council (2017-present)
- Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (2017-2021)
- California State Assembly (2021-present)
- Councilmember, Santa Clara (2021-present)
- Trustee, Morgan Hill Unified School District (2021-present)
- Trustee, Luther Burbank School District (2021-present)
San Mateo County
- San Mateo County Board of Supervisors (1985-1992)
- City Council, Woodside (2015-2020)
- Mayor, Woodside (2019)
- Redwood City Council (2021-present)
- Redwood City Council (2021-2022)
- South San Francisco City Council (2021-present)
- San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools (2019-present)
- Redwood City Council (2023-present)