Fred Ferrer

fred ferrer featured

Fred Ferrer – former CEO of The Health Trust and now CEO of Child Advocates of Silicon Valley – talks about how he dealt with homophobia with his family, Santa Clara University and his career.

Frederick Ferrer grew up in Marin County, just twenty minutes outside of San Francisco, but to him the gay world felt “millions of miles away.” He knew he was gay as early as kindergarten, but it was the era of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t even think about it.’

Although Ferrer was unable to fully be himself growing up, he felt surrounded by love. “I learned to love from my family, from my church and from my government, but I also learned how to hate from those three places as well. I experienced this notion that it wasn’t even okay to think you were going to be gay.”

In 1976, Ferrer left his Catholic Mexican family home life for a Catholic institution to pursue an undergraduate degree at Santa Clara University. He partied hard and studied harder to fit in, but noticed other queer men were missing from the social gatherings he frequented. They spent their days off making secret trips to San Francisco; their classmates oblivious as to what they were doing. Ferrer remained in the closet.

He went on to grad school at San Jose State to study to be a therapist. There, he worked with students who were coming out. But Ferrer felt emotionally unequipped to guide others on the journey he himself had not yet taken, and ultimately switched career paths. “I didn’t stay as a therapist because there was just too much internal pain, and I really wasn’t going to be a good therapist to somebody else if I couldn’t deal with this stuff myself.”

Instead, he entered the nonprofit world and began working with low-income Latino families in the early childhood care system, drawing on his education in child development.  Though he was still not out at the time, colleagues often assumed Ferrer was gay, but he did not confirm it. Still, the support from those around him, which included out gay executives, made him feel welcome in the valley as an advocate and leader who served on nonprofit boards. 

While he was growing more comfortable with this identity in his professional life, it wasn’t until tragedy struck in his early thirties that Ferrer began to reckon with his struggle to come out to his family. When his mother died of cancer at age 54, he knew it was time to come out, and he entered therapy to help him do so. “It really helped me come to grips with who I was, what I wanted to do, and what I was doing that wasn’t helpful to my personal and spiritual growth as a gay man.” 

Ferrer’s father’s reaction to his being gay was as he always expected: He immediately began seeing his son through the lens of demonizing stereotypes.  With his family situation rocky, Ferrer missed a few years of family events and tried to make up for lost time by socializing in the bars of San Francisco and San Jose. “It was like I was celebrating my twenties all over again.”

Coming out in the nineties brought its own challenge. Ferrer lost many high school and college friends to HIV. “I was going through all kinds of turmoil with dealing with the death of my mom, the aftermath of dealing with my father, and then dealing with this incredibly sad pain of losing high school and college gay friends to HIV and not having anyone to share that with.”

Despite that trauma and isolation, after he came out, he began advocating for LGBTQ-inclusion in early childhood settings. He taught a curriculum called: Makng Room in the Circle to help involve LGBTQ+ parents.  Ferrer pushed on with his LGBTQ advocacy. As vice chair of the Santa Clara County United Way board in 1992, he led efforts to defund the Boy Scouts because the local chapter would not sign a non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation. This debate led to conducting a needs assessment of the LGBTQ community and the ultimate funding of programs like the Billy DeFrank Center.

His work with the United Way showed him the power of putting money where your mouth is and walking the talk when it comes to fighting discrimination.

When Ferrer entered his new role of CEO of The Health Trust 1987, he was upfront about being gay from the start.  He ensured HIV services were a top priority, and transformed and expanded the programs based on the best practices and highest standards of care. He upgraded the food baskets that HIV-positive clients were given, allowing them to choose products themselves from stores like they would if they ahopped at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. “I was able to have Michelin star chefs come in and do cooking projects with us. It was great.”  Later he would co-chair a county-wide LGBTQ+ Health Assessment that would also lead to funding LGBTQ programs. 

Ferrer’s identity remains deeply intertwined with his work in the nonprofit sector, being it was the first safe community he found after experiencing a homophobic culture in college.

In 1995, Santa Clara University graduates wanted to form an LGBTQ alumni group, but the school prohibited it, thinking it would somehow be approving of homosexuality. It brought back memories of the pit Ferrer had in his stomach during his four years of undergraduate enrollment. “It brought back all of the homophobia that existed when I was a student and why it wouldn’t have made sense for me to come out. It also inspired me to make a difference and to work in the world of nonprofits.”

In 2014, then president Father Michael Engh invited Ferrer to chair a Presidential Blue Ribbon Task force on Diversity and Inclusion at the school.  “To have a gay latino man come back as the chair of the presidential commission, I think it showed how far the university has come.”

In 2010, the university established the Rainbow Resource Center. Ferrer now serves as a mentor at the Rainbow Center, working with young gay undergrads who share similar backgrounds. “I see the power of mentorship and the power of having the university recognizing you, and giving you a place to fit in and find like-minded people so that you can continue to develop in ways that may not be normative but in ways that you become more authentic.”

Today, in his role as CEO of Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, Ferrer advocates for the LGBTQ+ children in the foster care system, who make up a disproportionate part of the population. He is grateful for the opportunities he has had to work with children, given that one of the biggest arguments against gay marriage concerned children and their development.

Over his lifetime, Ferrer has seen Santa Clara University grow from a place where he had to remain closeted to an institution that seeks out his queer leadership. In 2014, Ferrer was granted an honorary degree from Santa Clara University for Public Service, the first gay man to ever receive this prestigous award.  He saw HIV begin as a death sentence that ostracized the gay community further, and later become a chronic health condition that has lost much of the heavy stigma it used to carry.

“I keep thinking what are the ways that we, as a community, can come together to end the kind of discrimination, homophobia, and now transphobia that exists and then work to change it. I know we will have a better community when those things no longer exist it.”

Dr. George Kent

george kent featured

Read and listen to longtime HIV/AIDS physician Dr. George Kent as he discusses his 32 years of work at the Santa Clara County PACE Clinic and what he sees as the new challenges ahead for treating patients with HIV.

Dr. George Kent has been caring for people at the Santa Clara County’s AIDS clinic for over 32 years. He started in 1989 when he began splitting his time between working with HIV patients and being a primary care physician with his own clinic.

“I’m not making this up,” the longtime ally said. “I would deliver a baby in the morning, then go to my private practice, and then to the HIV clinic. After work, I would go to the house of someone who was dying of AIDS and help his caregiver and partner with hospice. The circle of life was amazing to me.”

He has seen the disease evolve from one that was untreatable and incurable to what is now a chronic condition.

 As someone who has treated patients since the early days of the epidemic, he remembers how difficult it was. “People my age were dying in the prime of their lives. Many were gay and estranged from their families. There was social stigma. It was a terrible time.”

The Stanford and Case Western Reserve graduate came to the HIV field after a residency at the UCSF-affiliated program in Santa Rosa, followed by training at the CDC as a medical epidemiologist, then returning to San Jose and completing an HIV mini-residency with the AIDS Education and Training Center at UCSF.

Afterwards, he looked around San Jose to see who was caring for HIV patients. One day he went to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

“The clinic was in this little corner in the outpatient department; there were a few exam rooms. A person I met there was Dr. Ira Greene, a dermatologist and wonderful guy. We hit it off. After he got to know me and checked me out a bit, I said, ‘Ira, do you need some help?’ He said, ‘sure, you can join us.’ That was in 1989, and I’ve been there ever since.”

Kent reflected on some of the difficulties in the early days. “We felt a little like a M.A.S.H Unit. At one point we were in a flimsy little trailer in a parking lot. It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It made us more cohesive because we really did feel like it was us against the world.”

The PACE Clinic, or Partners in AIDS Care and Education, assembled an interdisciplinary team from the beginning. “You had oncologists, you had infectious disease, you had primary care, and you had dermatology because a lot of these conditions manifested with skin problems.”

Working with HIV was the ultimate medical education for Kent. The virus was a multifaceted issue that impacted family relationships, societal attitudes, and the whole of the LGBTQ+ community when it first hit the United States. There were concerns over confidentiality and end-of-life planning that just did not exist when it came to other terminal illnesses.

“It certainly has made me a better doctor,” Kent said of caring for his patients.

In the PACE Clinic, the staff kept a whiteboard where they recorded the names of the people that died each month. “At the end of the month, we’d have a service. We would all get in a circle and say something about each person that died. We light a candle and have a memorial service, and then we’d have to erase the whiteboard and start over the next month.”

Witnessing the deaths of so many young people took a toll on Kent, and he needed time to cope with the stress and burnout. “I took two months off during the height of it,” he said.

Things started looking up for HIV patients in the early nineties, more than a decade after the first cases were discovered in the United States. With protease inhibitors and other medical therapies, the virus no longer claimed the lives of the majority of people in Kent’s care. “People just came back to life.”

Some of those individuals are still alive today. “I have these 25-year relationships with these patients who were basically at death’s door.”

Although Kent recognizes the magnitude of his work back in the early years of the AIDS crisis, he doesn’t want to glorify it. “We were all there on the front lines, and we felt like we were doing something important and meaningful.”

Today, HIV is no longer a death sentence. It is a chronic condition that can be managed with medications and even prevented with treatments like pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.  Kent is hopeful some of his patients might see a cure for HIV in their lifetime.

He believes more primary care physicians need to be trained to work with HIV to expand access to treatment and help normalize the condition. By giving patients the option to see their regular doctor, the medical community can make living with HIV part of mainstream medical care. 

“I see HIV as a primary care condition,” Kent said. “I don’t think you have to go to a specialty clinic just because you have HIV.”

Advances in HIV treatment have only been part of the battle; the other is getting people into care and keeping them in care.

Today, healthcare disparities among those affected by HIV complicate the “Getting to Zero” mission, which aims for zero new HIV infections, zero deaths, and zero stigma.

In particular, he highlighted the importance of reaching vulnerable and underserved communities like the homeless and people of color living in the South. Two barriers that keep Black HIV patients from getting the care they need are medical racism and mistrust of doctors.

“We definitely need more outreach into those communities with culturally-competent clinicians who can establish trust, because our biggest challenge right now is accessing these communities.” 

In Santa Clara County, medical teams serve homeless encampments and bilingual Latinx community outreach workers manage care for Latino HIV patients. “The outreach workers will go to someone’s house. If we have a patient that missed their appointments, or didn’t refill their medication, they’ll go to their house. They’ll meet them where they work.”

Translators of every known language are available at the PACE Clinic, which offers additional services like counseling, psychiatry, nutrition guidance, and a treatment adherence program.

“We have world-class institutions here in Santa Clara County with the expertise that you don’t see hardly anywhere else in the world, much less, our country or our state.”

Kent grew up admiring his father’s impact on people as an obstetrician. Working at the PACE Clinic has helped him to fulfill the societal benefit of the medical career he always wanted. 

Working in Family Medicine at Stanford Health Care and the PACE Clinic has proven beneficial to him and his patients.

“If one of my Stanford HIV patients loses their insurance, then I can see them at PACE Clinic. I love that because then I don’t have to lose them. So, I have one foot in both worlds—enabling that continuity of care that I think is really helpful. I feel very fortunate.”

Gail Reflects on Mac’s Club

gail featured

Queer Silicon Valley is proud to present an interview with one of the most influential people in the bar scene — Gail Chandler-Croll

Interview conducted by Ken Yeager

Author’s note: The interview with Gail Chandler-Croll, the owner of Mac’s Club, took place inside the bar on Post St. in the late morning of July 30. I had been wanting to interview her for a year as part of Queer Silicon Valley’s history of the bar scene. Standing behind the bar was longtime bar manager and friend Jim Michl, and off to the side was John Croll, Gail’s husband.

As Gail tells the story of Mac’s, she remarks that she is a straight woman who had never owned a bar, much less a gay one. She was looking for cash flow and the owner was looking for cash, so they struck a deal. That was in 1977. Soon later, she would also own Renegades from 1980 to 2006.

Gail referred to Mac’s as a sanctuary. “Through the years, people would come in to be with their friends, enjoy themselves, and be part of the community. It was a privilege to be part of that,” she said.

Harassment from the police was constant. There were ongoing raids, intimidations, and arrests, all without legitimate reason. Once, there was an undercover agent who pretended to be a patron – who later turn people in. Whenever the police cleared the bar, it had an obvious effect on business.

Then there were the years of AIDS when so many people were dying. She estimates she lost 40 friends to the disease. It got to the point where she could no longer attend funerals.

The drag queens and drag shows were always a highlight. “The outfits were beautiful, the make-up, the wigs. I never looked that good,” she laughed. “When we had the drag shows, everybody came.”

The old Mac’s had to close in 1998 due to changes in building codes from the Loma Prieta earthquake. The adjoining business in the building, Sal and Luigi’s pizza, also had the close. The building was later retrofitted and housed Brix’s gay bar and now the Continental bar.

She found a place for sale on Post St. in a 107-year-old building that she thought was intimate and similar to the old Mac’s. After they had bought the building, John Croll had gone to an auction and had bought the entire bar furnishing for $500. He was the only bidder.

Gail thinks the new location on Post St. has served the community well. She brags that it was there before Splash and before it was known as the Qmunity District. But now the time has come for her to sell the bar and move onto other projects.

Be sure to listen to two other interviews about the old and new Mac’s. One is with longtime bartender Rafael Hussin; the other from longtime manager Jim Michl. Listening to all three interviews will give people a picture of the bar scene that no longer exists today but which played an important role in creating a community for LGBTQ people in Silicon Valley. Much of that world has been lost as the number of gay bars has dwindled to three. Hopefully it doesn’t dwindle to two.

Thank you, Gail, for the interview and for the memories you gave to so many friends and patrons.

Bartending at Mac’s with Rafael

rafael sf pride 1988

Rafael Cuilan was a very popular bartender at both Mac’s Club and later Renegades. Rafael was always great with faces and drinks, so no matter how long it had been since you’d been in the bar, he’d remember your drink and be busy mixing it up before you even sat down.

Mac’s was a kind of “gay family” bar, and Rafael, Skip, and Rich treated their customers like family. It was always great to sit down at Mac’s and enjoy a drag show and conversation with everyone sitting around you.

Rafael moved to Germany in 1994 but he’s back now and enjoying his retirement by getting deeply involved in helping elect progressive politicians. 

Santa Clara County Leather Association

SCCLA patch

When the South Bay Leather Uniform Group (SLUG) disbanded in the mid-1990s, the Santa Clara County Leather Association stepped in to take its place.

The SCCLA is a pansexual social and educational club, where folks can find connection, mentorship and community in leather. Renegades – San Jose’s only leather and bear club – became the group’s hub for weekend nights, Sunday brunches, movie nights and meetings of the San Jose Brotherhood.

Members stitched SCCLA’s triangle patch onto leather vests and jackets, which were often worn to annual formal dinners and leather weekends, where the dress code was, “Leather in uniforms are admired but not required.” These socials attracted people across Northern California, from San Francisco, Sonoma and Sacramento.

“We had fun, did good things, raised money for charity – I had a blast,” said Frank La, who first joined SCCLA in 2012. “I was becoming my leather self, and I was understanding what leather was about: not what’s worn on the outside but kind of inside in the heart. I loved it and took into it like a duck to water.”

The organization also hosted Mr. and Ms. Santa Clara Leather contests, whose title holders become ambassadors for the community, helping connect and educate folks in and outside of the LGBTQ community.

Frank – who earned the title of Mr. Santa Clara County Leather 2014 – said being an ambassador was one of the highlights of his life.

“I got to meet and spend some time with leaders in the leather community that, unfortunately, are no longer with us today,” Frank said. “I got the opportunity to sit down one-on-one to discuss history of where they’ve been, where they came from, where they are today and where the leather community is today. The title holding experience is just unbelievable.”

Growing out of the post WWII biker culture, leather promoted images of masculine independence that resonated with men and women who were dissatisfied with mainstream culture, especially dispelling the myth that all homosexual men were effeminate.

Gay leather became a practical way to symbolize open exploration of kink and S&M for some, while others adopted it as an entire lifestyle. In the 1960s, San Francisco became a hub for leather subculture in the gay community, which exploded internationally in the 1970s and 80s.

According to the Leather Archives, the SCCLA was founded in 1997 by Kevin Roche and Miranda von Stockhausen – who were Mr. and Ms. South Bay-San Jose Leather 1996, respectively. SCCLA represented the merger of the South Bay Leather and San Jose Leather groups.

Locally, Gabrielle Antolovich, the DeFrank Center’s president, earned the title of International Ms. Leather and International Ms. Bootblack in 1990, while Lance Moore is known as “Member #1” of the SCCLA. Moore is a Silicon Valley technical writer, Billy DeFrank Center board member and Mr. Santa Clara County Leather in 2000.

The SCCLA was spoiled; master craftsmen Tony and Dave Coronza founded Leather Masters in 1989 from their garage – in true Silicon Valley fashion.

“We would go into Mr. S (Leather in San Francisco) and some other stores and say, ‘Oh, I can make that,’ and ‘I can do that much cheaper,’” Carranza told the Dallas Voice in 2020. “I was a stockbroker at the time, and I didn’t want to wear a suit and tie to work. I said, ‘Hey, let’s go into business.’ And then we bought a sewing machine.”

Leather Masters emphasized providing correct, accessible information for people interested in the lifestyle, on top of providing the local LGBT and straight communities with high-quality leather products during the rise in popularity of the subculture’s style.

Their storefront on Park Avenue opened in 1991 in San Jose’s St Leo’s neighborhood, an emerging LGBT hub, where they not only sold custom leather jackets, vests, boots, chaps and harnesses, but also tailored garments specifically to customers’ bodies.

“To have that in San Jose – whatever you wanted – they had or would make for you, that was just priceless,” Frank La said. “It takes a true craftsmen to make those things.”

The store eventually closed in 2016, a few years after Tony Coronza passed away from complications of a stroke. Dave Coronza moved down to Dallas. The South Bay’s nearest leather shops remain in San Francisco, which can vary in price and quality.

The number of events held by the SCCLA started declining in 2019, as core members were busy with life, moving out of the Bay Area or even passing away. The SCCLA isn’t intending to shut down, but the Covid-19 pandemic really pumped the breaks on gatherings and events in 2020.

San Jose State University PRIDE Center

sjsu pride

The San José State University (SJSU) PRIDE Center was founded on September 22, 2008, initially as the LGBT Center, to cultivate an inclusive campus climate for LGBTQ+ students.  The center supports student’s identity growth, leadership development, and cultivates a community to support the safety and well-being of all LGBTQ+ community members at SJSU.  The PRIDE Center was initially located in Building BB on the South East side of campus across from the Campus Village residence halls. From there it had a brief stint in Hoover Hall, and a temporary location in a Modular Building B for a few years while the Student Union renovation project was being completed. The PRIDE Center is located in the Student Union and is led by the founding director Bonnie Sugiyama with the support from the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) counselors Dr. Stephanie Preston (current); Tova Feldmanstern, LCSW; Dr. Angela Krumm; and many intern counselors and post-doctoral residents.

 One of the larger efforts hosted by the center is the Peers in PRIDE or PIP mentoring program, developed by Dr. Angela Krumm, which connects incoming or continuing students with peer mentors who help them find a sense of community and belonging on campus and ease the transition to a large urban university. The program allows students an opportunity to connect with their peers and create new communities that they can rely upon.

Another initiative the center has successfully implemented is SJSU to Zero, through a grant from the county, which is an advocacy project mirroring the efforts of the county’s Getting to Zero campaign.  SJSU to Zero focuses on reducing the rates of HIV transmission through promoting preventative actions like PrEP, and working to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV testing and diagnosis. The project (the first of its kind on SJSU’s campus) is spearheaded by Matthew Capprioni in partnership with Sugiyama. This advocacy-based effort works by providing spaces for students to discuss HIV openly, thus reducing stigma and removing barriers to testing and treatment. 

Along with these two programs, the SJSU Pride Center also supports six student organizations which function on campus in different spaces, and help students feel a sense of community and visibility among their peers: 

Estudiantes Latin@’s y el Provecto Arco Iris –  A supportive, social and activist group open to all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender queer, questioning, intersex, and ally (LGBTQQIA) Latin@s in the San Jose area.

Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – a chapter of the national OSTEM society dedicated to educating and fostering leadership for LGBTQQIA communities in the STE(A)M fields.

Queer and Asian (Q&A) –  Q&A originated in fall 2009 and is designed to encourage students to raise positive awareness of queer and pan-Asian communities at the SJSU campus.

Queers Thoughtfully Interrupting Prejudice (QTIP) – QTIP provides a safe space for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and allies an opportunity to come together in a supportive environment and discuss issues and concerns.

Urban PRIDE – Urban PRIDE is dedicated to dealing with and catering to the social and daily issues of urban GLBTQ individuals in the San Jose area through events, functions, and making our voices heard. 

Trans Talk – Trans Talk is a group for transgender/genderqueer identified people and their active allies.

The center is also home to the LGBTQ+ Faculty and Staff Association, who meet regularly to discuss issues facing LGBTQ+ members of the SJSU campus, as well as the larger San Jose community. LGBTQ+ FSA was formed in 1992 and is open to all SJSU faculty and staff interested in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender topics. 

The center hosts regular events and meetups for LGBTQ+ students, and provides ample resources for services and education on their website. The annual Rainbow Graduation celebration is the pinnacle experience for students who have engaged with the community through the PRIDE Center.  All participants are given rainbow tassels and former PIP mentors are given rainbow honor cords.

During the COVID-19 statewide shutdown, the center has made huge efforts to continue providing reliable support to students through hosting online meetups, and even hosting a virtual Rainbow Graduation ceremony in Spring of 2020.

Teatro Alebrijes

teatro alebrijes

A one-of-a-kind LGBTQ Latinx Theater ensemble located in San Jose. The plays produced are inspired by the queer Latinx experience. Rodrigo García and Ugho Badú direct the ensemble in addition to writing the plays that the ensemble performs. Every year the ensemble performs an originally written Christmas play that performs at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, Billy Defrank Center, and in Watsonville. In 2016, they produced a four-episode web series titled “SiemPrE Por Ti” funded by the Health Trust as part of the Getting to Zero strategy. Another project funded by Getting to Zero is “Canción de Cuna para Un Niño Herido/Lullaby for a Wounded Boy” which was met with great success. For three consecutive years, Teatro Alebrijes produced “Carlota” an original play by members of the ensemble, which performed to sold-out audiences that included English-speaking folks who attended despite the fact that the play was spoken in Spanish, but had subtitles projected on a screen in English. In 2019, Teatro Alebrijes was invited to perform at the historic El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista for its Day of the Dead celebration. The ensemble used to rehearse 2-4 days a week at the School of Arts & Culture, and it’s now holding virtual rehearsals through the Zoom platform.

Aejaie Franciscus

Aejaie

Aejaie Franciscus’s story starts with a letter to Santa Claus at five years old, “I asked Santa, to make me a little girl for Christmas, as I was born a boy. To say the least, that present wasn’t under the tree, but it did set me on my life’s journey,” she recalled. 

She endured bullying throughout high school and, with the support of her family, finished her transition before heading off to college in 1982. She moved to San Jose in 2004 and met her husband, Tony. The couple married during the “Summer of Love” in 2008. 

“Other than the drag queens, people did not see much of this community. It was an underground community. It wasn’t until the last ten years that folks were seeing transgender folks in the LGBTQ community even,” Aejaie remembered, “I think it was about three years ago that the community saw representation at Pride events.”

Aejaie worked in the nonprofit arena for 20 years before being hired as the first transgender executive director of the Billy DeFrank Center. In an article from the Bay Area reporter, Aejaie mentioned that she was excited to start working, “This job offered me an opportunity to bring my personal life and professional life together. It’s like a coming out party.” This was the first job where she was able to speak about being transgender safely. She served as director from 2005 to 2008, during which time she spearheaded a HIV rapid testing program and worked with local schools to support kids dealing with homophobia. 

Aejaie now owns the Carla’s Social Club, a space for transgender people to find resources for transitioning and get support among other transgender people.

“It will be interesting to see what happens once we come out of the pandemic, because the work we do is so social and interactive. We had events and discussion groups activities at Carla’s Salon that are online, but are more effective in person,” she explained about the local impact of the global COVID-19 crisis. “Other than discussion groups online, and anything else we can move online, there’s only so much social activity you can do. It’s hard to help girls pick out clothes online, you need to see someone in person to help them put together outfits. You need to see someone in person to give them a hug for support.”