Measures A & B: Local Anti-Discrimination Attempts

awaiting measure a and b results

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.”

Raising the Rainbow, Transgender, and Bisexual Visibility Flags

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The month of June holds special meaning for many people because it is known around the world as LGBTQ Pride Month. In San Jose and Santa Clara County, the governing boards issue pride proclamations and raise the rainbow flag, usually at their first meeting in June.

Ken Yeager was the first openly gay councilmember elected to the San Jose City Council in November 2000, taking office January 1, 2001. In June 2001, Yeager asked the city manager and Mayor Ron Gonzales if he could raise the rainbow flag in front of what is now called Old City Hall on Mission Street. They both agreed.

It was the first time the Pride flag was flown there, so there was quite a media event around the flagpole. The Silicon Valley Gay Men’s Chorus sang a moving rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.”


Like city hall before 2001, the rainbow flag had never flown at the County Government Center. That changed in June 2007 when Yeager hoisted the flag after winning election as the first openly gay member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Once again, the Silicon Valley Gay Men’s Chorus sang the national anthem.


The flag from that first event in 2001 was framed in a large glass case and hung in Yeager’s office during his time on city council, and later hung outside his door at the county building.


The rainbow flag has flown over the County Government Center during LGBTQ Pride Month every year since 2007. In fact, the rainbow flag has become such an important symbol of the values of the county that when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages in 2013 County Executive Jeff Smith agreed with Supervisor Yeager that it should fly every workday, which it did from that day forward.

On the 6th annual International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 22, 2016, the county raised the Transgender Pride Flag at the County Government Center, making it the first county in the nation to do so. Afterwards, it was decided to fly it under the rainbow flag everyday as well.


After the horrific killings in Orlando, Florida, at the Pulse Night Club, in grief and solidarity the Rainbow and Transgender Pride Flags were flown at half-staff for two days.

The pink, lavender and blue Bisexual Pride flag was raised for the first time at the Santa Clara County Government Center for the first time on September 21, 2017, as part of Bi Week of Visibility.


In 2019, a large coalition of local organizations and residents who stood united to speak out against the future opening of a Chick-fil-A at Mineta San Jose Int’l Airport (SJC) Terminal B. Unable legally reverse the contract with Chick-fil-A, Ken urged the City Council to instead fly the rainbow and transgender flags as powerful symbol signaling that San Jose is a welcoming place to visit and live. The flags would come to serve to counter the discriminatory causes supported by the company and its leadership.

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Rainbow and transgender flags on display in SJC Terminal B

On March 10, 2021, BAYMEC Community Foundation Executive Director Ken Yeager and members of BAYMEC hoisted the rainbow and transgender flags at SJC Terminal A. The flags, which are now prominently displayed in the Terminal A Baggage Claim, expand on the SJC’s commitment to providing a welcoming environment for those traveling to San Jose.

The installation of the new flag poles in Terminal doubles down on that expression of welcoming and celebration of diversity. In addition to the support of the City Council, SJC Aviation Director John Aitken and Communications Director Vicki Day were essential in showing that San Jose welcomes all LGBTQ+ travelers.

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BAYMEC Community Foundation Executive Director Ken Yeager, BAYMEC Board President Drew Lloyd, and BAYMEC board members Maureen Heath and Hahn Mo join SJC Aviation Director John Aitken to raise the rainbow and transgender flags in Terminal A

23 Years Waiting for a Gay Pride Proclamation

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 on February 21st, 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.