The politically charged story behind San Jose’s Pride proclamation reflects the local struggle for LGBTQ rights and the community’s long fight with the Religious Right.
Although the first U.S. Pride marches and parades were held in June 1970, it wasn’t until 1975 that leaders in San Jose’s LGBTQ community asked then-Mayor Janet Gray Hayes and the city council for a Pride proclamation. It took three more years, but in February 1978, Hayes, along with Councilmembers Susie Wilson, Al Garza, and Jim Self, approved a resolution declaring the week of June 18, 1978, as Gay Pride Week in San Jose.
The resolution generated tremendous backlash among the city’s conservative Christian population, which was numerous and politically influential. Councilmember David Runyon, absent for the initial vote, called for a reconsideration of the proclamation at the Council’s March 14 meeting.
According to Ted Sahl’s 2002 book, “From Closet to Community,” the LGBTQ community made a valiant effort to mobilize support for the proclamation, with a telephone campaign and more than 200 supporters in attendance March 14. However, they were overwhelmed by the opposition. Approximately 800 Pride proclamation opponents, most from area churches, attended the meeting, and their presence was enough to convince Garza to switch his vote and rescind the proclamation.
The council, including Garza, did agree to issue a proclamation for Gay Human Rights Week, but the LGBTQ community saw it as a defeat.
The 1978 rescinding of San Jose’s Pride proclamation foreshadowed the further resurgence of the Religious Right in San Jose and Santa Clara County. Gay Pride proclamations became politically toxic. When Mayor Hayes ran for re-election that November, her campaign was confronted with a newspaper ad reading: “The recent Gay Pride Week initiated by Mayor Janet Grey Hayes is a perfect example of moral insensitivity and weak leadership.”
In 1980, the Religious Right managed to defeat two ballot measures, A and B, which would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing in the city and county. Following those defeats, it became politically dangerous for the mayor and city council to vote for a proclamation supporting a Pride celebration for years.
The full San Jose City Council did not issue a proclamation until Councilmember Ken Yeager proposed it in 2001—23 years after the first attempt to secure this city council recognition.
The situation was better at the county level. In June 1993, then-Supervisor Ron Gonzales introduced a resolution declaring a Lesbian and Gay Pride Week. Similar proclamations have been annually adopted by the Board of Supervisors since then.
Today, getting a city proclamation for an LGBTQ event generates no more controversy than any other cultural celebration in San Jose’s diverse community. It wasn’t always the case, and it’s a reminder not to take such things for granted. What is now routine was once unthinkable, and as long as members of the community stay engaged and committed, we will continue moving forward.