Freewheelers Car Club

freewheelers pool

Founded in 1978, the Freewheelers Car Club enjoys the distinction of being the nation’s oldest gay and lesbian car club.  The club’s origins can be traced to Sunnyvale, CA., when a small group of gay car collectors met to exchange information and socialize based on a shared interest in collector automobiles.  As word of this informal group spread, it soon became clear that a significant number of people within the LGBTQ community shared this same interest in the art, culture, and technology of the automobile.  From this chance beginning, the Freewheelers Car Club was formed and has since become an integral part of the local LGBTQ community, as well as set the standard for other LGBTQ car clubs throughout the nation.

When we aren’t in a pandemic, the Freewheelers hosts monthly events throughout the Bay Area and Central Valley with at least one or two in the South Bay each year.  Some of these events have included our pool party in the East Foothills, historic tours of downtown San Jose and country drives around the south county reservoirs.  We also co-host with our sister club in LA the annual “West Coast Meet” along the central coast of California, which is attended by members of LGBTQ clubs throughout the country.  Between the cars, the themes, the costumes and the performances, the West Coast Meet is arguably the most entertaining car show in existence!

The Freewheelers has always enjoyed a diverse membership, embracing all genders, orientations and identifications, including straight people who know how much fun we have.  Membership stands at approximately 300, with most members based in Northern California, while others are scattered around the globe.  The 1,200 automobiles listed in the club roster are as diverse as the membership.  There are no restrictions on make, model, year or condition, so whether you’re into Acura or Amphicar, Lincoln or Land Rover, Packard or Porsche, there’s something for everyone.  You don’t even need to own a car, as long as you share an appreciation of the many aspects of the vintage and collector auto.

For more information on this exciting and unique club, please visit the Freewheelers website at

De Ambiente

de ambiente pride

Jóvenes De Ambiente was a safe space for Spanish speaking and multilingual youth under the age of 25. Not exclusively for Latinx youth, this group was a safe haven for over 50 youth from all over the peninsula and South Bay. This safe haven provided sexual health awareness and leadership development for those interested in activism. Youth participated in rallies, pride parades, retreats, dances, and panels in different schools and medical facilities to bring visibility and awareness about LGBTQ+ youth. Many of the participants today say that De Ambiente was and continues to be a family where they can find comfort and support. This group of individuals was an outlet that kept many away from isolation, depression, drugs and alcohol, and for some, it was a space for individual growth.

Learn more about the organization on their Facebook page.

Aejaie Franciscus


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.”


carlas logo

In 1985, it was unsafe to be trans in public. As a response, private salons were opened for people in the community to dress as their true selves. Carla’s Salon opened in 1985 by Carla Blair, a heterosexual woman. Those who attended would have a private place to explore their gender identity. It was a combination tearoom, beauty salon, boutique, and social center that became popular worldwide within the transgender community.

“In 1985, the word ‘transgender’ had not gotten into the lexicon yet. Honestly, we use that word loosely now, but it was the transsexual community at the time,” Aejaie Franciscus remembered about the time Carla’s Salon was founded. “This was happening in the middle of the AIDS epidemic, yet people didn’t understand the gay community or the AIDS epidemic. When you introduce the idea of someone wanting to change their sex, they really didn’t understand that.” 

In 2010, Aejaie Franciscus and her husband took over the Carla’s Salon from founder Carla Blair. Carla approached Aejaie one day and suggested the idea, and after some convincing Aejaie accepted. The name changed from Carla’s Salon to Carla’s Social Club.

Aejaie has noticed a change in clientele over the years. As people have become more comfortable with presenting in public, there’s less need for haircuts and make up, and more need for socialization and support. Carla’s is a great resource for finding doctors as well. People participating in the salon need help at every level of transition. 

“I have been on the fringes of cross-dressing for a number of years now,” said one reviewer about Carla’s on their website. “Recently I decided to go deeper. I decided to have a makeover to see what I would look like as a woman. Aejaie could not have been more patient, supportive as well as doing an excellent job making me up and describing what she was doing and why.  It is so comforting to know that I am not on this journey alone. Thank you so much Aejaie.”

Membership at Carla’s is around 200 people, including 70 active locker members and people who come from all over the world to attend events. “There are a lot of people you could talk to from over the years that would say Carla’s was a life saver; it was a great resource. Whether it be through me, or someone else, that that’s where they found their family and place,” Aejaie said.

As of 2020, Carla’s is still in operation, continuing to offer members locker rentals and a safe space for those to spend the day en femme. The services and memberships are listed on their website,

El Camino Reelers

El Camino Reelers 2021

Square Dance calls to “Do-Si-Do,” “Promenade” and “Roll Away To A Half Sashay” became a welcome pastime for the LGBTQ community to socialize, stay active and sometimes even find love. 

The El Camino Reelers is a modern Western Square Dance club in the South Bay, formed in Palo Alto in September 1985 by lesbians and gay men looking to have fun and meet open-minded people.

More than three decades later, members continue to square dance to country music and traditional folk, as well as soul, disco and show tunes inside St. Andrews United Methodist Church, 20 minutes west of San Jose.

Tickets to attend the smoke-free and alcohol-free environment never require a partner, fancy outfit, coordination or knowledge about dancing. Members don’t even need to be part of the LGBTQ community.

This is far from an isolated phenomenon in the South Bay.

Marilyn Martinyak Pat Dixon
Marilyn Martinyak (left) and Pat Dixon (right)

El Camino Reelers were part of a wave of LGBTQ square dancing clubs that popped up nationwide, after intramural social “teams” first organized in Miami in January 1977. That same year, square dancing found its way 3,000 miles west in San Francisco, and three GLBTQ square dance clubs had formed by 1981.

Eventually, two members of San Francisco’s Western Star Dancers — Marilyn Martinyak and Patricia Dixon — started El Camino Reelers as an alternative to the clubs an hour away in the city. Marilyn and Pat were together for 27 years before marrying in Sunnyvale in 2008.

Early membership was comprised of mostly women during initial classes, but attendance grew through word of mouth and advertisements in newsletters of LGBTQ organizations, including High Tech Gays.

Within a year of its inception, El Camino Reelers became a member of the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs. As of 2021, the IAGSDC includes more than 80 clubs – primarily in the United States and Canada – and hosts an annual convention that brings together more than 1,000 dancers.

The El Camino Reelers became well-known as a “geek repository” due to its location in Silicon Valley, and members who worked at Adobe, Sun, Google, and Yahoo. The club lived up to that reputation in 2005, when they hosted more than 800 attendees at the 22nd annual convention, dubbed “Star Thru The Silicon Galaxy,” at the Marriott Santa Clara. Several smaller weekend gatherings, called “fly-ins,” were held every fews years in Cupertino, Palo Alto, Redwood City and San Jose from 1995 to 2010.

The El Camino Reelers are one of a dozens of clubs across the Bay Area, but remain the sole LGBTQ-specific organization in Santa Clara County.

The last live club night was Wednesday, March 11, before the Covid-19 pandemic halted in-person gatherings and activities. Virtual club nights resumed on April 14, hosted through Zoom every other week.

More information can be found on the El Camino Reelers website, as well as within the IAGSDC History Project, founded by Allan Hurst, a dancer, caller, and writer from Sunnyvale, California.