Elected Officials

LGBTQ+ Representation in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties

Updated December 2020 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 percent 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, special districts). Currently, there are 13 out LGBTQ elected officials.

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 2010; Chris Clark in Mountain View in 2013; and Rene Spring in Morgan Hill in 2017.

The list is 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 is Dennis Chiu to the El Camino Hospital Board and Shay Franco-Clauson 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.

The 2020 election brought much hope for LGBTQ candidates, locally and nationally. As Michael Vargas documents in his San Jose Spotlight article (linked with the “Oak Grove Trio” story), there were 574 out LGBTQ candidates who ran across the country, with 160 being elected, many to top offices. 

In Santa Clara County, there were a record-setting 9 people elected and 3 re-elected. The 2020 Class of newly elected officials includes: 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. (Oak Grove School Board) who did not face re-election.

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 join San Carlos City Councilwoman Laura Parmer-Lohan, who was elected in 2019 and appointed mayor by the council on December 14.

Ken Yeager

Ken Yeager

  • San Jose-Evergreen Community College Board (1992-2000)
  • San Jose City Council (2000-2006)
  • Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors (2006-2018)
  • Board President (2010, 2013)

Read more about Ken Yeager

John Linder

John Lindner

  • Franklin-McKinley School Board (2004-2018)
Jamie McLeod

Jamie McLeod

  • Santa Clara City Council (2004-2012)
Evan Low

Evan Low

  • Campbell City Council (2006-2014)
  • Mayor (2010, 2014)
  • California State Assembly (2014-present)
Rich Waterman

Rich Waterman

  • Campbell City Council (2010-2014, 2016-2020)
  • Mayor (2014, 2019)
jordan eldridge.profile

Jordan Eldridge

  • Rancho Rinconada Recreation and Park District Board Member (2010-2014, 2019-2020)
Dennis Chiu

Dennis Chiu

  • El Camino Hospital Board (2012-2017)
Chris Clark

Chris Clark

  • Mountain View City Council (2012-2020)
  • Mayor (2014)
Omar Torres

Omar Torres

  • Franklin-McKinley School Board (2014-2018)
  • Trustee, San Jose/Evergreen Valley Community College District (2021-present)
Rene Spring

Rene Spring

  • Morgan Hill City Council (2016-present)
Shay Franco-Clausen

Shay Franco-Clausen

  • Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority (2017-present)
john laird profile

John Laird

  • Santa Cruz City Council (1983-1990)
  • Mayor, Santa Cruz (1984, 1988)
  • Cabrillo College Board of Trustees (1995-2002)
  • California State Assembly (2003-2008)
  • California State Senate (2021-present)

Read more about John Laird

Jorge Pacheco Jr.

Jorge Pacheco Jr.

  • Oak Grove School District Board (2018-present)

Read about the Oak Grove Trio

alex lee for assembly

Alex Lee

  • California State Assembly (2021-present)

anthony becker santa clara

Anthony Becker

  • Councilmember, Santa Clara (2021-present)
ivan rosales montes

Ivan Rosales Montes

  • Trustee, Morgan Hill Unified School District (2021-present)

Jesus Salazar

  • Trustee, Luther Burbank School District (2021-present)
beija gonzalez

Beija Gonzalez

  • Trustee, Oak Grove School District (2021-present)

Read about the Oak Grove Trio

carla hernandez

Carla Hernández

  • Trustee, Oak Grove School District (2021-present)

Read about the Oak Grove Trio

alysa cisneros sunnyvale

Alysa Cisneros

  • Sunnyvale City Council (2021-present)

Gallery

charles adams profile

Judge Charles Adams

Not much is known about the six LGBTQ+ judges that serve on the bench in Santa Clara County. In the first of a series, read about Charles Adams, an openly gay male judge who has served since 2018.

Judges often lead lives of privacy, as they strive to unbiasedly guide others through the legal system’s stresses and hardships.

For Judge Charles Adams, who serves in Santa Clara County’s family courts, being “out” as a gay man at work means frequently setting that element of his personal life aside.

The 43-year-old is by no means the first LGBTQ judge in California; Judge Stephen Lachs hold that title, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1979.

More than 40 years after that historic ‘first,” Charles proudly serves as one of 73 LGBTQ judges in California in 2021, after he was appointed in 2018—also by Gov. Brown, during his second term.

After growing up as the son of two teachers in Antioch, a relatively small town in the East Bay, Charles went to college at the University of California, Davis, followed by law school at Pepperdine down in Los Angeles, where he started working in civil litigation and family law.

Charles stumbled into a job as a research attorney for the Superior Court in Santa Clara County in 2006, combining his desire to focus on finding solutions with a homecoming back to the Bay Area.

One of Charles’ career highlights began in 2011, when he began working as a permanent staff member under Judge Edward Davila in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, prior to his own 2018 judicial appointment.

Charles says he thrives serving on the bench, as his role in the justice system revolves around being careful, caring and wanting to do the right thing to help people.

After alternating between family and criminal court, Charles became a supervising judge for family court, overseeing cases involving issues like domestic violence, restraining orders, probate and guardianship.

Notably, Charles was not previously openly “out” at work before becoming a judge. That changed in a simple yet meaningful moment: deciding to check a box identifying him as a part of the LGBTQ community on the application to become a judge.

“It’s not a required question, but for me it was going to be sort of the first public acknowledgement of being gay or LGBTQ,” Charles says, adding that he only recently began feeling comfortable and safe bringing his partner of 12 years to work events. “From then, it never came up.”

That may be, in part, because there is often little crossover between the bench and LGBTQ politics, unlike many politicians and other public figures, who often share their personal lives to connect with other residents and build community.

Charles says that judges often live lives outside of the public eye in order to avoid any potential impacts to their perception of impartiality, especially within family courts. While anyone serving on the bench has their own attributes and feelings—consciously or unconsciously—he rejects any idea that personal characteristics should be reason for disqualification, regardless of whether judges are Latino, female or LGBTQ.

“When you’re sitting on the bench, who you are is important, but it’s not necessarily relevant,” Charles says. “Personally, I think it’s smart to not put too much out there so that people don’t have preconceived ideas of how you’re going to be, how you’re going to rule and what your perspective is going to be.”

Fortunately, he has yet to run into any problems.

“Going into every case, I only see what the issues are, what the law says, what the facts are as I find them and I make a decision based on that,” Charles continued, adding the he and his colleagues take the issue seriously. “I think just understanding how people, feelings, and families work translates beyond not being a parent, myself.”

Charles has years of practice, first seeking out privacy of his personal life beginning in law school—an often competitive environment where it’s natural to be careful about what others know and slowly learn who to trust.

“It’s not something I wanted people to really know about or have a reason to think differently of me, just because of that,” he explains. “It really wasn’t until I moved back to the Bay Area that I was a little more willing to have that part of my life shared.”

That’s one reason Charles hopes that the fact that he’s gay provides another example for future lawyers and aspiring judges to know it’s possible to be successful, despite any personal background that is different from the “norm.”

“I remember being a law student and there weren’t really any role models that I knew for what I wanted to be—to see that someone could be successful,” Charles says. “What I hope is that people in the same position I was in can see me doing the things I am, now saying they could do it, too.”

tom nolan portrait

Tom Nolan

  • San Mateo County Board of Supervisors (1985-1992)
rich gordon profile

Rich Gordon

  • San Mateo County Board of Supervisors (1998-2010)
  • California State Assembly (2010-2016)

Read more about Rich Gordon

daniel yost woodside

Daniel Yost

  • City Council, Woodside (2015-2020)
  • Mayor, Woodside (2019)
laura parmer lohan

Laura Parmer-Lohan

  • San Carlos City Council (2019-present)
  • Mayor, City of San Carlos (2021-present)

Watch an interview with Mayor Parmer-Lohan

Lissette Espinoza Garnica

Lissette Espinoza-Garnica

  • Redwood City Council (2021-present)
michael smith redwood city

Michael Smith

  • Redwood City Council (2021-present)
james coleman south san francisco

James Coleman

  • South San Francisco City Council (2021-present)
nancy magee featured

Nancy Magee

  • San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools (2018-present)