Measures A & B: Local Anti-Discrimination Attempts

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Measures A and B. Anita Bryant. Rev. Marvin Rickard. The Los Gatos Christian Church.

Saying these names today is likely met with blank stares. But in 1980, they were at the center of a battle for local policies protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public services.

In 1979, two years after Harvey Milk helped lead a statewide defeat of anti-gay Proposition 6, there was a push for anti-discrimination ordinances throughout Silicon Valley. Johnie Staggs, a pioneering lesbian activist in San Jose, recalled that the local gay community was “in a kind of euphoria [about Prop. 6]. We knew we were right and we wanted to live our lives openly. Unfortunately, many of us were kind of pie in the sky.” Passing an anti-discrimination ordinance in the first place, however, would be much more difficult.

Initially, it was envisioned that the City of San Jose would pass an anti-discrimination ordinance – but the mayoral race in 1979 bogged down any chance for the city council to make an issue of it. Subsequently, the push for anti-discrimination moved to the Board of Supervisors. David Steward, who was the only openly-gay member of the Human Rights Commission, was able to gather support (albeit lukewarm) from the commission to ask the Board of Supervisors to pass the ordinance; At the same time, Jim McEntee, Director of Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations, was able to bring the ordinance directly to the Board of Supervisors.

After receiving the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance, the Board of Supervisors oversaw six public hearings and more than 25 hours of testimony. The opposition was entrenched; Rev. Marvin Rickard of the Los Gatos Christian Church fervently argued against the ordinance and was able to bury the public hearings with hundreds of protesting fundamentalists.

By a 4 to 1 vote (with supervisors Diridon, McCorquodale, Steinberg and Wilson supporting and Supervisor Cortese opposed) the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors would finally pass an ordinance that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The opposition quickly responded with promises of retaliation on the ballot. With far less fanfare, the San Jose City Council voted 6 to 1 for a similar city ordinance.

Opponents wasted no time gathering signatures to stop the ordinances from taking effect. Two measures were placed on the June 1980 ballot, Measure A for the county and Measure B for the city of San Jose. A “yes” vote meant you favored the protections; a “no” vote signified you wanted them repealed.

The campaign was ugly, with opponents receiving a great deal of support from out of the area, with money and organizers (even campaign manager) coming straight from Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” group in Florida. In the wake of the Moral Majority, there was a clear

“Vote ‘no’ for the sake of our children. Don’t let it spread,” read their literature.

For proponents of Measures A and B, support was hard to find. Beleaguered organizers, lack of local interest, and vague platform significantly harmed the “Yes on A & B” campaign. Despite San Francisco’s sizeable gay political community, there was little to no support given, which was something campaign manager Johnie Staggs attributed to “a kind of arrogance because San Francisco is recognized, justifiably or not, as the gay Mecca.”

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Rosalie “Nikki” Nichols (center left) and Johnie Staggs (center right) toast at a Yes on A & B event

The election was a blowout, with 70 percent of San Jose voters and 65 percent of Santa Clara County voters rejecting the ordinances. The message was clear: gays were not wanted.

The repercussions were immediate. The nascent LGBTQ rights movement vanished. Gay activism came to a dead stop. Supervisor Rod Diridon, who ran for state senate in the April 1980 special election, lost to a Republican. The Religious Right also successfully supported two San Jose City Council candidates that year. Moreover, many local political leaders backed away from gay rights issues, although not the supervisors who voted for the gay rights bill.

long struggle booklet
The Long Struggle for LGBTQ Equality in Santa Clara County (PDF)

Four Former County Supervisors Recall the Turbulent Times of Measures A and B

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Dan McCorquodale, Ken Yeager, Susie Wilson, Terry Christensen, Rod Diridon, Dominic Cortese reunited for a panel discussion about Measures A and B on CreaTV’s Valley Politics show

Supervisor Susanne Wilson began with a recollection of her earlier experience with the religious right. In her previous position as a San Jose City Councilmember, conservative church members turned out in force to insist that the Council rescind a vote they had taken in March 1978, which provided recognition for a planned Gay Pride Week later that year.

She recalled the Council Chambers being packed with opponents of the Council’s action and that the crowds also filled to overflowing the downstairs cafeteria where the meeting was being broadcast. In the end, she and Councilmember Jim Self were the only ones who remained in support and refused to rescind their previous votes for the proclamation.

Supervisor Wilson also talked about the fallout from this vote she encountered when she walked door to door in her campaign that year for a seat on the Board of Supervisors. In the end, she was victorious in winning the Board seat, but she remembered experiencing lots of doors slammed in her face, something she noted had never happened to her when campaigning before her vote on gay pride.

Supervisor Dan McCorquodale commented that discrimination against gays was not a new issue for him. He recounted the anger and helplessness he felt when, as a young Marine, one of his friends was discharged from the Corps for having been seen leaving what was thought to be a gay bar.

There was no due process and no avenue for recourse. He said that he considered his 1979 vote on the anti-discrimination ordinance as one of his opportunities to speak out for equality and justice.

Supervisor Rod Diridon recalled, at the time of the gay antidiscrimination ordinance vote, he already was planning a campaign for a State Senate seat that would be decided in an April 1980 special election. He said that the Senate district electorate had become more conservative under Governor Ronald Reagan and with the growth of the Moral servative under Governor Ronald Reagan and with the growth of the Moral Majority, and he was aware a “yes” vote on this issue would impact his chance for success. However, despite the trepidation this caused, he felt he had to vote his conscience.

Supervisor Dominic Cortese said he considered the vote on the ordinance premature and that it concerned a moral issue to be discussed by the church and not legislated by government. “In many ways, I still feel that way.” He added his thought that “my church has not done enough to open that door.” He reminisced, “I was in a learning process. The whole country was in a learning process.” He concluded by saying, “I commend my colleagues for moving forward in a very bold manner. We had a very proactive Board.”

In response to a question concerning what the hearings were like, Wilson said she remembers, despite her previous experiences, still being amazed by the extent of the anger and hatred demonstrated by the ordinance opponents. Diridon said that the calls and letters received by the Board offices numbered at least 10 to 1 in opposition to the ordinance, but he didn’t believe the opponents reflected the entirecommunity. He commented that anti-gay sentiment was being preached from the pulpits of the conservation churches, as reflected, in part, by the number of calls against the ordinance the Board offices received on Monday mornings.

When asked if they saw the referendum coming, Wilson said “no”; Diridon said “yes”; Cortese said he felt the whole controversy was likely to set back the movement. McCorquodale said he could tell the proponents were in trouble from the very beginning but that rescinding the vote wasn’t an option as it would have been much “too disheartening for too many people.”

All described the campaign as “brutal.”

Diridon recalled leaving church with his wife and children on one occasion during that time and finding that every car in the church lot had a flyer on the windshield condemning his vote and stating “Diridon is a false person” and “actually he is gay.” He subsequently found out this distribution of flyers that Sunday morning involved virtually every car in all the church parking lots in his district.

Diridon went on to say that his support for the ordinance was a dominant factor in his losing the Senate election in April 1980. He clearly remembered being told by a state Democratic Party leader that “If he voted for this issue, he was committing suicide.” After his vote, he said some state Democratic leaders lost interest in his campaign. However, he concluded, “If you don’t vote your conscience, you’re not worth a damn.”

Wilson said that this issue didn’t seem to hurt her in her 1982 re-election campaign. Diridon, too, was reelected to the Board in 1982. Cortese won election to a seat in the State Assembly in the 1980 election, the same year as the Measure A and B vote. McCorquodale ran unopposed that year for another term on the Board of Supervisors.

However, in McCorquodale’s 1982 State Senate campaign, his opponent, incumbent Senator Dan O’Keefe, tried to make an issue of the gay rights vote in Stanislaus County, the more conservative part of the district. McCorquodale commented that, while he received negative reactions from certain individuals, the issue never seemed to gain traction.

When interviewer Terry Christensen asked if the supervisors ever regretted their vote, all said “no.” Cortese added that he had been consistent with his votes in support of LGBT issues over his 16 years in the Assembly. Diridon said that it was emancipating to vote his conscience despite the consequences. He expressed regret that the ordinance supporters hadn’t been better organized, though, because he thought the Measures A and B votes could have been successful.

Christensen asked if the supervisors had any advice to advocates of unpopular causes. Diridon responded, “Get organized early.” He went on to say that the Democratic Party, organized labor, the Council of Churches, and the Mercury News all supported the ordinances and, if the supporters had been organized, they could have won.

McCorquodale recommended that advocates research their issues carefully and also study and understand their oppositions’ issues in order to formulate responses. In addition, he suggested they make sure they have enough volunteers to go door to door and take the issue to the public.

Wilson said when you feel something deeply, you must stand up and fight for it. Cortese added that he always recommends following the golden rule and treating people with respect. Further, he said it is important to analyze the issues, make considered decisions, and stick with them.

McCorquodale said he wanted to take the opportunity to recognize the contributions of then-Human Relations Commissioner David Steward, the first openly gay commissioner, who secured a unanimous vote from the Commission to send the ordinance to the Board. He called Steward “the spark plug.”

Diridon and Cortese both added that the role of then-Human Relations Director Jim McEntee shouldn’t be overlooked. Diridon noted that McEntee never hesitated in his support for the ordinance, and Cortese recalled that “Jim McEntee gave of himself unconditionally.”

When asked how the supervisors thought the County was functioning now, Wilson said, “very well” and concluded with, “They are taking care of people.” McCorquodale made special note of the County’s fine hospital and park system. Cortese added to his positive comments about the current Board that he was extremely proud of his son, former Board President Dave Cortese, and that “Dave was his legacy.” Diridon expressed that he perceived that the dynamics of the current Board were similar to the Board at the times of Measures A and B, and that they were “taking up progressive issues” and “doing a wonderful job.”

Imperial Courts

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Kevin Roche, a member of the Imperial Courts, remembers that it was over fifty years ago when groups in Portland and San Francisco first started drag balls. “This is when being in drag was a more transgressive activity than it is considered nowadays,” he said in an interview. This was the beginning of the Imperial Courts on the West Coast. After drag balls were established behind the scenes in 1967, the International Imperial Court System (IICS) was founded in San Francisco and hosted many drag shows and coronation balls. Later IICS was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization to raise money for charity while still having a lot of fun.

Mama José, also known as José Julio Sarria, was the first Empress in San Francisco, the mother of all queens participating in the Imperial Courts. Kevin recalled: “She was the mother empress of us all. She rather notoriously declared herself empress when she won a pageant at one of these balls and they were going to crown her queen, and she took the Tiara out of their hands and says, ‘I’ve been a queen all my life. I hear hereby declare myself Empress.’ This was something that was transgressive. This was revolutionary.” Mama José was an outspoken activist for the drag community in San Francisco, whose goals for the Imperial Courts included education and cultivating a greater community sense of gay pride, identity, and unity.

The San Francisco chapter of the Imperial Court is still active today. Mama José died a few years ago, in 2013; a piece about her on the Imperial Court’s website notes that Mama José was “a proud openly gay Latino, drag queen, and one of the great iconic American pioneering political activists and leaders of the modern-day LGBT Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements, [who] gracefully and peacefully passed on from this life after a long battle with cancer at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at 7:02 AM on Monday, August 19, 2013 in his 90th year blessing this earth.”

Learn more about participating in the Imperial Courts at their website: imperialcouncilsf.org

1985: Fatal Police Shooting of Melvin Truss Sparked Public Outcry

The fatal police shooting of Black teen Melvin Truss sparked public outcry as many called into question the conduct of the officer responsible for his death and the handling of the case by the grand jury, law enforcement and city officials.

SJPD’s version of events

On May 4, 1985, San Jose police officer Paul Ewing was on duty in the Street Crimes Unit, wearing civilian clothes and driving an unmarked police car. Around 6:45 pm, Ewing claimed he saw Melvin Truss dressed in women’s clothes and jewelry, soliciting drivers at Second and San Carlos streets, according to a city memo authored by San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara.

Truss approached Ewing’s car and asked if he was looking for a date, the memo continued. Ewing drove Truss first to a Highway 280 overpass, then to San Jose Bible College, and finally to Olinder School.

According to McNamara’s memo, Truss then began to act agitated and took a steak knife out of a rolled-up windbreaker on his lap, demanding Ewing’s money. Ewing said he distracted Truss and drew his .357 magnum service revolver, pointing it at Truss in hopes that he would retreat. As Truss came toward him, Ewing fired five rounds and jumped out of the car without any injuries.

Truss was transported to San Jose Hospital, where he died at 9:05 pm the same night, according to records from the Human Relations Commission of the County of Santa Clara. He was 17.

(It should be noted that Truss weighed 115 pounds while Ewing was 6’1″ and weighed 200 pounds.)

Public uproar followed as community members and Truss’s family disputed police accounts. While a police spokesman labelled Truss a “transvestite,” Our Paper reported that advocates denounced police for waging a slander campaign against Truss.

A community fights back

Family and friends knew Truss as a shy but polite kid, a fan of Michael Jackson, Metro reported. “Melvin was the kind of person anyone could read like a book. By that I mean he did not carry any false pretenses” said Sharon Youngblood in a statement to Santa Clara County’s Human Relations Commission. Youngblood, a business instructor at James Lick High School who knew Truss for over two years, also noted: “You could look into his eyes and read his ‘soul.’”

Constance Carpenter, a lawyer with the Attorneys Committee on Police Practices, pointed out to the Human Relations Commission that police attempted to find the rest of Truss’s set of steak knives but found no matches.

In addition, in an attempt to try to identify him as an armed robbery suspect, the police pulled 380 reports of armed robberies, grand thefts, and aggravated assaults in the city, Carpenter detailed: 66 cases were investigated further and none of the victims identified Truss as the suspect, according to Carpenter’s statement to the commission.

A grand jury voted in May 1985 not to indict Ewing for fatally shooting Truss. Ewing returned to regular duty.

After the grand jury result, Laura White, an aunt who helped raise Truss, told the Mercury News: “If this is allowed to stand, the people in San Jose and this society had better watch out. Because every month, these trigger-happy police officers who have taken the oath to preserve and protect are going to be dropping people in the street right and left.”

Despite calls for an independent citizens committee to investigate the shooting, in June 1985 the San Jose City Council voted against the proposal after nearly two hours of testimony from attorneys, friends of Truss, and several police officers. According to the Mercury News, one of Truss’ classmates testified that Truss would never hurt anyone, “especially someone older than him and a lot bigger than him.”

During the council meeting, police in full uniform lined the walls of city hall, opposing the proposed independent investigation, according to Metro reports. White was especially angered by Assistant Police Chief Stan Horton, who said Truss “died because of his lifestyle.”

The legacy of Truss’s death

“No one will ever know what really happened at the time of the shooting,” stated Ken Yeager, a spokesperson for BAYMEC, said at the time “But it isn’t difficult to imagine the circumstances that created the situation in the first place, nor the attitudes of the policeman involved. This is what we find very frightening.”

“Our focus now is to call attention to the fact that police in San Jose seem to believe anyone who might be Lesbian or Gay is a criminal or in the process of committing a crime, notably solicitation or prostitution,” said Wiggsy Sivertsen, BAYMEC’s vice-president. “The ramifications of this are enormous.”

Upon request from BAYMEC, the San Jose City Council approved a program in June 1985 through which San Jose police officers would receive training on gay and lesbian lifestyle. The move was met by opposition from the police, as reported in the Mercury News. The training was done by Sivertsen,

Responding to community concerns, the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission held a public hearing in August 1985. Youngblood, an advisor for James Lick’s Black Student Union, recalled the time when Truss participated in the group’s fall fashion show.

“He was scared to death on that stage and it was written all over his face, but he knew it was for a worthwhile cause and it was exciting for him too,” Youngblood told the commission. “Melvin was not capable of violence.”

In 1989, a federal jury cleared officer Paul Ewing of violating Truss’ civil rights in a civil suit brought by Truss’s mother.

Politics & Activism

Ray Aguilar

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Aguilar always urged family members to celebrate holidays together. He was a founding member of The Imperial AIDS Foundation, which provided hot meals, paid rent, prescriptions, and provided transportation to medical appointments for people living with AIDS . Ray Aguilar died due to complications from AIDS in February 1995.

ProLatino

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The first meeting of ProLatino was held in February 1992 at the Billy DeFrank Center. Thirteen people attended. The group formed out of the need for a safe environment for gay Latinos to meet and discuss their community, health, and HIV/AIDS. J Alejandro (Alex) Campos Vidrio was the first president of the group, and Omar Nunez was vice-president.

Alex organized meetings every other Tuesday, asking participants to bring a new person with them at each meeting. The group grew from 13 to 27, then 38, and kept going from there. Eventually, they couldn’t fit in the original meeting rooms. They moved to the main ballroom in the Billy DeFrank Center’s Stockton Avenue location. Sixty people came to each meeting and participated in a variety of events.

Although forming ProLatino was a huge step in the direction of healing the LGBTQ+ Latino community, Alex’s goal of creating a safe environment was still not met. Working with Esperanza Garcia Walters, they wrote a grant proposal to host a retreat for the LGBTQ+ Latino community, which they received. The first retreat was held at a Catholic center in Mission San Juan Bautista with 30 gay men participating. Discussions included breaking down institutionalized and cultural homophobia, and the layers of growing up gay in a community that rejected them. They heard stories like being dragged by a horse through their hometowns in Mexico for being gay, or wanting to commit suicide because of their sexuality. These were shared in a safe space with a focus on healing. The retreat was so successful that over time they offered as many retreats as they could afford, which is what Alex had set out to accomplish.

The initial years were very busy. In 1993 they were invited to be part of the San Jose gay parade, the first Latino group to march in it. Members who did drag were embraced as a way to show that no one from any part of the LGBTQ community was excluded. ProLatino worked with other LGBTQ organizations to be more welcoming of the Latino community. At ARIS, for example, they worked to create the group “Entre Hombres” for gay Latino men who were HIV positive. They produced information about AIDS in Spanish, the only such literature available.

Alex remembers the Latino community had the idea that if you were gay, it makes you part woman, which makes you less than a man. “This idea makes you feel and think that you don’t deserve much, but ProLatino broke through those barriers,” he said. Alex made sure to reach out to other groups, including Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and others. “Our group felt safe because it wasn’t led by a white man–it was led by peers in the community,” he said.

In 1996, the group became a 501(c)(3) with a board of directors and co-chairs to run the organization. Omar Nunez was one of only two people who remained active with the group from the time it formed in 1992 until it went out of existence around 2011/2012. He remembers the retreats fondly. “They were open to everyone who wanted to attend, and people came from all over the Bay Area. Many of the men who attended were immigrants who only spoke Spanish. The retreats created a safe space for them that they had never experienced. It was very empowering.”

The workshops put on by ProLatino were very popular. They provided a place separate from the bars where people could get to know each other. “There was a tremendous void for the Latino community,” said Omar. “Here we were, almost a majority of the population, and there was nothing for us. ProLatino filled that void. It provided social and cultural programs, along with AIDS prevention services. Along with retreats, we did exhibits, education, art, theater, and parties. I’d say we had a couple hundred people a year attend our programs, resulting in well over a thousand gay Latinos connecting to our group.”

“It was an interesting and wonderful time,” said Omar. “People were ready and willing to do something for their community. It was a very unique period. I haven’t seen that type of community spirit since. It may never happen again.”

In 2005, Omar ran the program “Vida y Salud” (Life and Health) for gay Latino men with HIV.

In 2010, he was hired at the Santa Clara County’s PACE Clinic, a county-run clinic for HIV/AIDS patients. As a Community Health Outreach Specialist, he does outreach for the clinic, education for new patients, and interpretation services for doctors.


In 2000, with the support of Miquel Perez, David Castro was elected president of ProLatino. He remembers it as a tough time to get program funding because of the stiff competition for dollars. Since ProLatino had become a non-profit, they were able to receive grants from the state to provide HIV/AIDS services to the Spanish-speaking community. “Neil Christie was very supportive of us and he wrote a request for funding for a new support group,” David said. The center, which would become the Neil Christie Living Center after Neil passed away from AIDS, is where ProLatino  began to have educational programs for the Spanish-speaking community. Eventually, due to lack of funding, The Health Trust began to manage the center.

 The blending of ProLatino as a social group and the non-profit “Grupo ProLatino de San Jose” proved to be problematic, especially since David was advocating for both. Eventually, the non-profit lost its financing and no longer had money to pay staff. David then left the board and moved to Arizona in 2005 where he attended college and got a BA in Spanish and English translation and interpretation and continued to work on his master’s degree.

David has fond memories of the services that ProLatino provided to the Spanish-speaking community. “I used to get calls from married men with children who learned they were HIV positive, and it was difficult for them to handle their personal life. They only spoke Spanish so they didn’t know which way to go or what to do, and many wanted to commit suicide. I would meet with them after work and we would talk for hours about everything that was going on. I would eventually get them services, and I felt very good about that.”

Alejandro Campos

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In the late 1980s, J Alejandro (Alex) Campos Vidrio was a 21-year-old gay Mexican college student at San Jose. Like most Latinos, he grew up in a homophobic community, where he found that the stigma of being gay and the stigma of HIV was widespread enough for him not to come out. One of his friends had been in a relationship with someone who tested positive for HIV, so he accompanied him to the free clinic for an HIV test.

At the time, Alex knew nothing of the disease. In a counseling session, a nurse asked him a series of questions to determine if he was at risk. Before that, Alex had not told anyone he was gay, but when the nurse asked the question, he confirmed his sexuality. Because he was gay, this put him in the high risk group for HIV, so he took the test.

Two weeks later, he arrived at the clinic alone to receive his results: he was negative. The visit was so short that he stopped the nurse from leaving the appointment to ask her how he could help his Latino community get informed about HIV and learn how to protect themselves. The nurse explained there was no program for that at the time and suggested he get involved in creating options for his community. So he began volunteering. It was there that he met nurse Esperanza Garcia Walters and nurse Maria who would assist him in spreading awareness to the Latino LGBTQ community.

Alex’s first volunteer event was at Stanford University’s Walk for AIDS. Although he was there to help, he kept a distance between himself and the leaders with HIV, still scared of attracting the stigma of HIV. The walk, and how many people participated in it, made an impact on him.

Alex began attending a meeting of gay men in the Latino community at Club St. John on Mondays. Over time, he brought condoms and pamphlets and offered HIV counseling. Outside the meetings, participants didn’t even acknowledge each other for fear of being identified as gay.

At that time, Alex began seeing a Catholic Latino. One weekend he joined him on a retreat, which emphasized that participants were in a safe environment and would be protected by their peers and a higher power. The retreat changed his worldview: He wanted that kind of space for the gay Latino community to gather.

After he returned, he approached the Billy DeFrank Center, asking to host a gay Latino community night. They quickly turned him down, saying he was too young and not serious enough. He kept trying. Through his volunteering at the clinic, Esperanza Garcia Walters invited him to have dinner at an HIV patient’s home. He became close friends with the couple, and the dinner became a weekly gathering of friends. Alex and others fixed up the house, making it brighter, more comfortable, so it felt like a safe space. They called him “Chispa,” meaning “spark,” because he made them feel more alive.

Alex continued to pass out literature and condoms, attempting to connect with his community. His efforts were met with resistance; he was kicked out of many clubs and restaurants for doing so. He attended a meeting at the Billy DeFrank Center, voicing concerns that literature wasn’t available in Spanish for the Latino community, that they had neither a safe place to congregate nor resources away from the public. The DeFrank Center finally offered him space on Monday nights. Campos made a flyer inviting folks to “come and share with us,” as a way around using stigmatizing words like “gay” or “HIV.”

For the first meeting in 1992, Alex made 25 folders with pamphlets of information, condoms, and other resources. Thirteen people showed up, beating his own expectations. Attendees asked him to hold another meeting, so he spoke to Mark and was approved. The meetings were scheduled every other Tuesday. Every person attending committed to bring one more person with them to each meeting. This was the beginning of ProLatino.

In 1998, Alex decided to step down from ProLatino in order to take care of himself. He moved to San Francisco and joined the HIV Prevention Working Group of the State of California, traveling across the state, gathering data and analyzing trends in the virus’s spread.

In 1999, Alex went on vacation to Hawaii and according to him “never left.” He attended the University of Hawaii and worked at the School of Medicine as a director of the Pre-Health Career Corps. Due to the pandemic, he has not been working since March 2020.

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One of Alejandro Campos’s proudest moments working with ProLatino came while attending a conference with the Department of Education in Hawaii in 2011. He learned about LLEGO’s (National Latino/a Lesbian and Gay Organization) opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community and attended a workshop about retreats. The Hawaiian group cited what they learned about retreats from a San Francisco group, which they learned from a Bay Area local, who turned out to be Campos. This moment validated all the work he did through ProLatino. His ideals had spread throughout the country, even making it to Hawaii. — Alejandro Campos

South Bay Times (1988-1990)

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With Our Paper/Your Paper rising to prominence throughout the 1980s, there was little alternative gay press in Silicon Valley. John Follesdal, Whayne Herriford, Richard Kendall, and Ted Sahl (who already had worked extensively on other gay press in the area) started a new paper, South Bay Times, that sought to be not only financially solvent but beneficial to the local lesbian and gay community.

The Fight Against Prop. 64

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Efforts to Quarantine AIDS Patients

The early to mid-1980s was a time of widespread misinformation and hysteria about AIDS. There were public fears that AIDS could be transmitted through the air like the common cold or by mosquitoes.

Into this atmosphere stepped Lyndon LaRouche, a one-time Marxist who, by 1986, had become a far-right reactionary, calling Henry Kissinger a communist and accusing Queen Elizabeth of conspiring to get the U.S. population hooked on drugs. His followers exploited the misinformation and public fears about the AIDS epidemic to secure the 500,000 voter signatures necessary to get an initiative on the ballot.

LaRouche’s initiative appeared on the November 1986 ballot as Proposition 64. It would have allowed public health officials to make HIV testing mandatory for people thought to be infected and required public disclosure of anyone who tested positive. Further, it would have prohibited anyone with HIV from attending or teaching school, as well as restricting their ability to travel.

When Prop. 64 qualified for the ballot in June 1986, many Californians held a negative or even hostile attitude towards both the AIDS epidemic and the LGBTQ community. A Los Angeles Times poll published that summer found half of the public favored quarantining AIDS victims, and a quarter believed that “AIDS is a punishment God has given homosexuals for the way they lived.”

The South Bay fight against Prop. 64

On July 1, 1986, BAYMEC’s board voted to put the organization’s full resources into defeating Proposition 64. The South Bay’s LGBTQ community, demoralized by the passage of Measures A and B and the subsequent arrival of AIDS, gained a renewed sense of activism. The next few months would see a dramatic transformation in the community’s profile and relevance.

The statewide No on 64 campaign initially planned to open offices only in San Francisco and Los Angeles. BAYMEC board members thought this was short-sighted. They feared that the San Francisco and Los Angeles-based campaign leadership would ignore the South Bay and put little or no effort or outreach into the region. There was a lot of work to do in educating voters all over the state about the realities of the epidemic and just how dangerous and disruptive Prop. 64 would be if it were approved.

BAYMEC was eager to run the local campaign for two reasons. First, even though they were a fledgling organization, they felt they had the capabilities to run a professional campaign. Second and equally important, they believed that the South Bay needed a strong LGBTQ organization to lead all the subsequent fights they knew would surely come over the years. It would be a missed opportunity to leave no lasting legacy of progressive gay politics and coalition-building. Though originally there was no universal agreement on BAYMEC’s role by some gay activists, over time most came on board.

Wiggsy Sivertsen agreed to serve as the local No on 64 campaign chair, Paul Wysocki as finance chair, and Ken Yeager became the campaign manager for Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Wiggsy, Paul, and Rich Gordon also served on the statewide committee.

There was never any question that local campaign headquarters would be at the Billy DeFrank Center, then located on Park Ave. It was not only the hub of South Bay LGBTQ political activity in 1986, but also a landlord who was willing to rent office space for the incredibly low rate of $200 a month.

Financially, the South Bay community stepped up in a big way. State organizers only expected BAYMEC to raise $20,000. In under 14 weeks, they raised $73,000. Santa Clara County donors actually contributed more than those in the much larger San Diego County. The first fundraising letter was mailed out on July 30. The September 7 kickoff fundraiser had over 200 attendees and raised over $7,000.

The fundraising campaign was the definition of grassroots. More than 1,200 contributors wrote checks of $10, $50, or other small amounts. The average contribution was $60. There were no corporations or wealthy individuals writing big checks. Fundraisers were held at bars and nightclubs stretching from San Jose to the Peninsula to Santa Cruz and 23 house parties in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Election night victory

On election night, November 4, 1986, a large crowd of supporters watched the returns at the Billy DeFrank Center. A sense of happiness and relief mounted as it became clear that Prop 64 was going down to defeat. The people of California had listened to the No on 64 campaign’s prevailing message of reason and understanding.

The next day, BAYMEC immediately began planning a celebration. Someone had a connection to Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose so they decided to hold the event there. Rebecca Obryan organized volunteers who cooked spaghetti for approximately 200 people. Admission cost $5.

Because so many deserved to be recognized for their contributions, during the dinner Ken Yeager asked people to stand up and be acknowledged for their work on voter registration, speakers’ bureau, fundraising, house parties, and voter outreach, or as Billy DeFrank Center board members. When he asked who donated their hard-earned dollars, everyone in the cafeteria stood up. There was a roar of applause, creating a sense of community that was palpable.

The ARIS Project

aris-founded

The AIDS Resources, Information & Services (ARIS) Foundation formed in 1986 to provide information, resources, and support for AIDS & HIV positive patients in Santa Clara County. ARIS supplied assistance to patients through a monthly food basket and nutritional supplements program, a 24-hour residential care facility, transportation services, and weekly emotional support groups. ARIS offered a housing program for the HIV and AIDS patients who needed assistance: they had 4 houses and 18 bedrooms for patients with regularly scheduled visiting nurses.

ARIS’s newsletter, Pages, shared several times a year. Many back issues have been preserved in the ARIS collection archive at San Jose State University.

ARIS was working closely with the Public Health Department to create public education programs to end the stigmatization of HIV & AIDS, as well as a sex education program to prevent the spread of HIV. The foundation shut down in 2003. Read more about the organization in Battle Against HIV/AIDS (PDF).