Rene Spring

Morgan Hill Councilmember Rene Spring didn’t set out to be an elected official or a spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ community, but he became both.

Spring became involved in civic duty through participating in Leadership Morgan Hill, an organization that educates and inspires residents for community leadership and volunteering. He served on the board, eventually becoming its president, and did likewise with Morgan Hill Community Foundation, a philanthropic organization.

Spring, 60, entered politics as a Morgan Hill Planning Commissioner passionate about open space. Although he often found himself on the losing end of land use battles, people took notice and suggested he run for city council. In 2015, he threw his hat in the ring, even though there wasn’t an open seat available because two incumbents ran for reelection.

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Morgan Hill Councilmember Rene Spring pursues his passions. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

“Everyone told me you’re crazy,” he said. “There’s no way they’re going to elect a gay person in Morgan Hill. It’s too conservative.”

But Spring put his heart and soul into it, creating billboards and commercials and knocking on doors every day. He was elected in 2016 by a landslide.

“People were looking for fresh ideas,” he said, “for someone who was different.”

As the first elected councilmember in South County who was openly gay, he found himself approached by parents, grandparents and LGBTQ+ community members who appreciated the representation. Once elected, he championed raising the pride flag in the city.

“They were afraid of the backlash. I wasn’t afraid,” he said. “If I didn’t ask for it, who would?”

The pride flag first flew in Morgan Hill in June 2017, and now proudly waves at City Hall, the community center and recreation center throughout the month of June each year, and a pride event is held at City Hall annually.

“The pride flag sends out a signal this is a welcoming city,” Spring said. “It’s ok to be who you are. It’s important people feel safe… especially if you’re a minority.”

Realizing services for the LGBTQ+ community were lacking in South County, Spring reached out to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors demanding safe spaces for youth and health services. Although some were provided, more are needed, he said.

“LGBTQ youth have the highest suicide rates,” he said. “They have nowhere to go. There are a lot of conservative people, a lot of very religious Christian people. They make it tough on their own kids. I went to the funerals of young people who took their lives because their parents did not support them. That is so heartbreaking when you see a young life end just because their parents don’t accept them. That needs to change.”

Spring worked to bring people hope, especially youth, modeling a joyful, successful life as an openly gay man in a relationship with someone he loves.

“They’re still going through rough times,” he said. “Trans kids, it’s awful what they have to endure, but at least they know I don’t need to hide. There’s someone out there in our city government who knows how it feels to be bullied, to be ignored.”

He and his husband, artist Mark Hoffmann, have lived in Morgan Hill for 20 years and have been together for almost 26 years.

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(l to r): Mark Hoffmann and Morgan Hill Councilmember Rene work well together. Signs illustrated by Hoffmann dotted lawns throughout Morgan Hill during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

“We’re still living a very happy life,” Spring said. “It’s great that people see that. Just by being out there and being who we are and showing you can live a happy life, that by itself is a huge accomplishment and meaningful to many people.”

But challenges still arise. One time at a community event, a woman being introduced by Spring to his husband, turned on her heels and walked away without a word. Sometimes they don’t get invited to events at all.

Another incident occurred when there was a move to end drag shows in Morgan Hill. Spring wasn’t about to let it happen without a fight. Working behind the scenes, he was able to stop any ban from being passed by the council. “That was hard, but it was the right thing to do,” Spring said. “I made a lot of friends and lost some.”

Spring said in his two terms as councilmember that Morgan Hill has come a long way and is a wonderful community to live in. He created “It’s Ours. Our Morgan Hill,” a Facebook page promoting the area’s natural beauty. He enjoys strolling through town, meeting with friends, dining out, and hiking.

“Especially for someone like me who works in tech, the agricultural area is beautiful and relaxing,” he said.

Spring enjoys art, theater, traveling, and animals, including his Maine Coon cats. He pushed the city to renew its contract with the local animal shelter and worked to preserve open space.

When Spring ran again in 2020, he secured about 70% of the votes. He promoted fiscally sustainable community growth and additional small businesses over large distribution centers to increase revenue following the COVID-19 pandemic. His term ends in December 2024 and he’s considering whether to run again. Morgan Hill doesn’t currently have term limits for City Council members or the Mayor. Whether to change that will be put before voters in November.

Spring works as Director of Program Management for Cadence and leads its Global LGBTQ+ Inclusion Group. In August, a Cadence team sponsored and participated in the Silicon Valley Pride Parade. Not everyone feels comfortable identifying as being gay in the corporate world, Spring said.

“You’re a happier employee if you can come in and be who you are instead of hiding,” he said. “It takes away that pressure. At Cadence, I am the trailblazer. If I don’t speak up and ask for change, then who will?”

A rough start

Raised in his early childhood years in Switzerland by a single mother, Spring ended up in a small orphanage run by Protestant nuns, along with his sister.

“If a mom had to work, the state would take over, take kids from the mom, and put them in foster care,” he said, adding that his brother lived with foster parents and struggled.

When Spring was seven, his mother remarried, and the children were returned to her. But on his first day home, Spring’s stepfather slapped his face, he said, and for years physically and mentally abused him.

In the 80s, when he was in his 20s, AIDS struck, Spring attended more funerals than parties, he said.

“It was devastating. It took away the joy of being an openly gay, fun person,” he said. “We became outsiders. As a young person, that’s hard. My friends didn’t want to go out with me anymore. That was rough, those years.”

In Bern, Switzerland, gay clubs were hidden downstairs without signage, Spring said, and police would raid them and note patrons’ names. This list was kept by the city and checked by potential employers.

“It was horrible,” he said. “You couldn’t get a job.”

A new beginning

Spring moved to the United States in 1998, when he was in his early 30s, to work as a tech consultant in San Francisco. There, he met Hoffmann and started a new life. He became a U.S. citizen in 2006. After living in South San Jose, they moved to Morgan Hill together and became part of its vibrant community.

“I hope many others will have the same wonderful life down the road,” he said. “I’m happy.”

Stones by his front door say it all, “Wish it. Dream it. Do it.” He keeps his Swiss culture alive through baking and egg decorating and enjoys celebrating special occasions with Hoffmann’s extended family. They share children from Hoffman’s former family: Jamie, Jeffrey, and Lindsay. Jeffrey and his wife Melissa made them proud grandparents of three grandchildren who call Hoffmann Papa and Spring Opa. They teach their grandchildren that they can marry anyone they love.

“It’s beautiful,” Spring said. “They grow up knowing a couple like us and it’s part of their normal life.”
Hoffmann said Spring gives everything his all.

“I’m extremely proud of him,” he said. “He’s always had that passion for change. He’s always been so outspoken about being gay. Because of him, Morgan Hill has opened its arms to us.”

Written by Lorraine Gabbert