By Ken Yeager
Born Aimee Devereaux Sivertsen in Southern California, she has gone by Wiggsy since early childhood, after her sister mispronounced “wiggles” to describe her rambunctiousness. She graduated from San Jose State University in 1962, and later received a master’s degree in social work from Tulane University in New Orleans.
Wiggsy’s career as an activist and community leader began after she was outed and then fired while working as a counselor at the Peninsula Children’s Center in Palo Alto. This traumatizing event would later push her to get involved with community organizing.She had already been working part-time at San Jose State’s counseling center so she was able to join the university’s staff full time in 1968. She was SJSU’s first openly gay employee.
While Wiggsy was out at San Jose State, she was not active politically until 1977 when State Senator John Briggs authored an initiative that would have banned gays and lesbians from teaching in California public schools. She took an active part in the campaign to defeat the Briggs Initiative, which was on the November 1978 ballot as Proposition 6, making appearances on both radio and television.
As a result of the Briggs Initiative, Wiggsy’s public profile began to steadily rise. Over the next two decades she would become one of the most visible members of the Silicon Valley’s LGBTQ community.
One night in the summer of 1984 at the Toyon bar in San Jose, Wiggsy and Ken Yeager talked about the need for an LGBTQ political group. The two of them devised the outlines of a regional LGBTQ political action committee focused on Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties. The committee would eventually be known as the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee (BAYMEC), modeled after a similar organization in Southern California known as the Municipal Elections Committee of Los Angeles (MECLA).
Wiggsy heavily shaped how BAYMEC operated. She helped prepare their initial budget, was one of the signers of the first checks, and the architect of their endorsement policy for political candidates.
As a professor and counselor at San Jose State University, she campaigned against ROTC programs on campus because of the Defense Department’s discriminatory policies toward lesbians and gays. She was active in other ways on campus, too, including as a faculty advisor to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance and the Women’s Center. It was in these roles she counseled hundreds of students in the coming out process.
Wiggsy has been a tireless advocate, teaching classes to San Jose police officers about LGBTQ lifestyles, fighting for more programs for those who experienced domestic violence, advocating for LGBTQ seniors, being president of the California Faculty Union, and serving on the county’s Commission on the Status of Women, the Senior Commission, and the Human Rights Commission, to name a few. In 1988, she began teaching a sociology class at SJSU on gay and lesbian issues. In 1994, the university would establish a scholarship in her honor that focused on students who worked to support LGBTQ rights.
In short, there hasn’t been a single human rights issue that she hasn’t been involved in for the last half century.