A diverse group of leaders in Silicon Valley in 2010 explain why they strongly believe that the civil right to marry should be extended to committed same sex couples. These leaders come from business, government, law, religion, the arts and community service organizations. Their comments can help us articulate a powerful case for changing our culture to embrace same sex marriage and to promote the healthy families that such changes will allow. The film-making group became acquainted as Senior Fellows of the American Leadership Forum in Silicon Valley, an organization dedicated to joining and strengthening leaders for the common good.
In a history written in 2017 about the founding of the South Bay Queer and Asian, Roger Chow remembers meeting Dino Ago in the fall of 1991 to discuss the need for a gay Asian support group in the South Bay. After some planning, on February 19, 1992, the first meeting of the group met at the offices of the Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), a large and influential Asian-American non-profit social service organization in San Jose. Three people were in attendance: Roger, Dino, and a reporter from the San Jose Mercury News. Despite a slow start, they continued to meet weekly as their membership grew. According to Roger, they were the first gay Asian group in the South Bay.
Their name changed over time, first being the “AACI group,” then the Asian, Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay Alliance, or ALBGA, then finally taking the name of South Bay Queer and Asian, or sbQA, right before the Gay Pride Parade in June, 1994. Initially AACI provided the facilitators for the group sessions, but the counselors were constantly changing, so the group decided to separate from AACI and transfer to the Billy DeFrank Center in order to develop its own leadership. They have remained at the DeFrank Center and helped raise money for its operations since.
Roger remembers what an adrenaline rush it was in creating the group. It was founded on the idea of creating a safe space for the pan-Asian community to receive support and counseling, along with help in dealing with family, financial, immigration, and mental health issues. There is also an sbQA scholarship fund to help LGBTQ+ Asian-American students from local high schools go to college.
In 1994, Roger Chow attended his first Pride parade and met a young Japanese man. Seeing he was distraught, Chow approached him and asked what was wrong. The man had just been disowned by his family for coming out. This young man was one of a few that Chow met over his years at sbQA who were disowned by his family, and it was crushing.
As Roger writes, there was much variation in the session topics, from coming out, relationships, AIDS 101, dating, etc., mixed in with “Learning to Dance the Samba.” They did theme nights, potlucks where everyone was encouraged to prepare specific ethnic food (Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Indonesian were popular). They went to see movies: “The Crying Game” and “My Beautiful Launderette” as well as attended the Asian American Film Festival and the Lesbian Gay Film Festival in San Francisco. They saw “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” marched in the Gay Pride parades in San Francisco and then in San Jose, walked in the Santa Clara County AIDS Walk, learned about safe sex and HIV, and had members who served on the Santa Clara County Commission on HIV/AIDS. They skied, camped out and had many meals together and established the tradition of their top three annual gatherings: Chinese Lunar New Year (Tet), Thanksgiving and Christmas (Holiday) potluck dinners.
The annual summer picnic is a huge family-friendly event for members and their friends and family, offering a great opportunity to meet people across the LGBTQ+ community. Other events include Thanksgiving dinner, a Holiday Party in the winter, and Chinese Lunar New Year. Thanksgiving dinner is a potluck event for members of sbQA and other LGBTQ+ Asian groups throughout the Bay Area. Some years, the GAPA Men’s Chorus from San Francisco performs. Chinese Lunar New Year is a huge event where the community shares celebrating the New Year together.
As in any organization, membership crises can occur. As Roger recalls, one controversy that erupted centered around if participation should be limited to Asians only. The first time around the debate was settled by having a majority of the planning group be Asian or of Asian descent. The second time the issue arose it was decided that since there were many groups for the “majority community” and only a few distinctively for gay Asians, they wanted their “rap” meetings closed. All of their social or other social functions would always remain “open to all.” Thus ended their second membership crisis.
In an August 2020 conversation with Ed Tang, who joined the group in 2005, and interim president Kyle Matsumoto-Burch, they talked about the more pressing issues for gay Asians, many which revolve around immigration and the threat of being deported. As Kyle said, “There is always that idea in the back of your mind that you’re going to have to go back to your country of origin, which means you have to go back to your family. There is this piece of you that might be okay with yourself being gay and maybe you’re living the life now, but eventually you’ll have to go back and conform to how it is back home. That is what is in the back of some people’s minds.”
One young man, the only son of a Chinese family, had a difficult time coming out to his parents. After a rap session, he asked their chairperson, Jerry Wang, to give him guidance, desperate to find a solution. A few years later, his parents came to the U.S., and he invited them to meet members of sbQA. Once they met others in the LGBTQ+ community, they realized that they were human beings too, and not too “out there.” They were concerned about grandchildren, so sbQA leaders explained how their son could have a family, including options like surrogacy. In 2019, this young man’s first child was born, and his parents stayed in the U.S. to help their son and his young family.
Tied into that, the issue with H1B visas looms and of not getting theirs renewed. “It’s not just a matter of leaving the culture, or leaving their friends, but it’s losing a job,” said Kyle. “If they haven’t established themselves in their home country, it’s going to be difficult for them to get a job because ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.'”
Just as creating a safe space for queer Asian Americans was a hallmark from the beginning for sbQA, so it continues to be today. Ed talked about how in the gay community there can be a problem of Asian fetishization. The older generation in sbQA is protective of the younger generation, making sure they have someone to turn to if they have any issues. He was always very tense when he was the organizer of an event. “I keep looking, watching to make sure nothing goes wrong because there are certain individuals who are very aggressive. I really look out for them to make sure that they do not go overboard. As people begin to feel comfortable coming to our events, they will bring their friends. That’s what happened with our annual picnic. The year I first attended in 2005 there were like 30 plus, and now it’s about 160 people. It’s a big change. Once people feel safe, they will come and they will bring their friends.”
“I used to work with foster care children and I would have to fight with the DA to get foster kids placed with gay families.” Ed Tang
sbQA has two main issues when it comes to the future. First is recruiting more women into leadership roles. Kyle is pleased that a woman is now vice president of the group. The second is passing the baton from generation to generation and mentoring one another on how to run a civic service group. Roger, Ed and Kyle all understand how important it is for sbQA to actively recruit younger members.
Kyle believes the legacy of sbQA is this creation of a network of individuals who are very helpful to one another. “With sheltering in place, a lot of the work that sbQA has been doing is offering support to people who are isolated. That’s why we have these zoom meetings. But we’re also more active on Facebook now where people can log in at any time and be able to talk to anybody pretty much at any time. So there’s more availability now. Our network offers a lot of support to different people for different reasons.”
“Some folks take years to come into the meeting. They will show up to the Billy DeFrank Center and stay outside and not go in until they have the confidence to.” — Kyle Matsumoto-Burch
The celebration of pride in Silicon Valley can be characterized as a series of struggles and triumphs. Whether it was presiding over one the largest pride events in between San Francisco and Los Angeles to staving-off bankruptcy and uneven organization, Pride in Silicon Valley has persevered and evolved into a wondrous event that the LGBTQ community eagerly awaits every year.
The Gay Student Union was able to organize the first pride event in Silicon Valley. The main event began at 9:30 am, with other events held in various parts of the SJSU campus. Workshops included bisexuality, drag, couples, legal rights, religion, and sadomasochism. The day was closed with a potluck dinner and dance at the Student Union Ballroom.
St. James Park (1976-1980)
Sponsored by the Lambda Association, the first Gay Freedom Rally and Dance was held downtown at St. James Park. More than 300 people attended, and it was considered a small but strong showing for Silicon Valley’s first official pride event. Guests included Harvey Milk, who was a speaker in 1978. This would be come to the location for pride for the next four years.
City Park Plaza (1981-1982)
The Lambda Association moved its Gay Freedom Rally to City Park Plaza (now known as Plaza de Cesar Chavez) on San Carlos and Market Streets.
St. James Park (1983-1985)
Renamed Gay Pride Celebration in 1983, the organizers returned the festival to St. James Park. By then, there were more gay businesses and organizations participating than ever before.
5,000 people participated in 1985, marking a huge milestone for Pride and the LGBTQ community in Silicon Valley.
SJSU Athletic Fields (1986)
Due to redevelopment efforts at St. James Park, San Jose Pride moved to the SJSU Athletic Fields on 10th and Alma. Attendance remained stable, despite the financial constraints and a venue change.
Santa Clara County Fairgrounds (1987-1993)
After 1986, the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds was chosen as a less expensive alternative to St. James Park, one that also allowed for more flexibility with vendors and better accessibility to facilities. Though Pride had been cast out of downtown, festivities and attendance continued to grow each year.
The Alameda Pride and Parade (1993)
While the location of Pride at The Alameda was brief, it drew a great deal more attention and recognition than it had in the past. Mayor Susan Hammer was named one of the grand marshals, the first time a San Jose mayor participated in Pride. With 10,000 people attending, Pride became far more than a niche event for the local LGBTQ community.
Stockton Strip (1994)
Despite the previous year’s success, Pride was endangered. The Gay Pride Celebration had lost thousands of dollars the previous year. In an effort to preserve its momentum, Stockton Avenue was chosen as a cost-effective way of organizing gay businesses and activities in a central area. While there was a significant decrease in attendance (only about 2,000 per day), Stockton Avenue kept Pride alive in Silicon Valley.
Discovery Meadow (1995-2014)
The move to Discovery Meadow in 1995 ushered in a more stable and organized era of Pride in San Jose. Attendance broke a new record with 12,000 attendees. Five years later it reached 20,000. Additionally, the appearance of high-profile individuals, including drag superstar RuPaul in 1998, offered even more reasons for people to participate in Pride. Discovery Meadow remained Pride’s home for several years. In 2014, San Jose Pride was renamed Silicon Valley Pride to be more inclusive of neighboring communities.
Park Avenue and Almaden Boulevard (2015-2016)
Under new chair Thaddeus Campbell, Silicon Valley Pride had its first parade event in years. This new parade also coincided with a new event location on Park Avenue and Almaden Boulevard. In 2016, the organization launched the first Saturday Night Festival.
Plaza de Cesar Chavez (2017-2019)
After successfully restarting Pride with a new parade and location, along with unloading the troublesome debt accrued in previous years, Thaddeus Campbell oversaw Silicon Valley Pride’s move back to Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Because Pride tends to be majority male driven events, in 2018 the organization launched HEY GIRL, a queer female identified group under Silicon Valley Pride umbrella started by Liz Asborno and Nicole Altamirano, as well as the first Trans and Friends Rally and a Drag Queen Cooking Showdown.
Digital Venue (2020)
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Silicon Valley Pride debuted a virtual celebration of Pride. Community members were invited to submit videos of their art, dance, or a simple greeting to commemorate Pride.
Stockton Avenue Parade (1991-1992)
Heralded as the first pride parade in the South Bay, the 1991 San Jose Gay Pride Parade marked the first in many efforts in heightening the visibility of the LGBTQ community. The parade was on Stockton Avenue, going from Taylor Street to the Alameda, and concluded at the Billy DeFrank Center. Stockon Avenue was a prime location for the parade, largely owing to the Stockton Strip and its gay clubs and businesses.
Market Street Parade (1995-2009, 2015-2019)
After the move of the Gay Pride Celebration to Discovery Park, the parade was able to resume in 1995. The new downtown route was along Market Street, beginning at St. James Street and ending at Park Avenue. Attendance was consistent, with parade having an uninterrupted 14-year streak. Unfortunately in 2009, the recession had hit organizers deeply, leading to an end of the parade. In 2015, after rebranding itself as Silicon Valley Pride, the parade made a successful comeback along its regular route on Market Street.
Pride names by year:
- 1976 Gay Freedom Rally and Dance
- 1982 San Jose Gay Pride Rally
- 1983 San Jose Gay Pride Celebration
- 1991 San Jose Gay Pride and Parade
- 2014 Silicon Valley Pride