As we celebrate and recognize National Coming Out Day, while at the same time keeping our eyes on cases before the Supreme Court this week that have the potential to set us back decades, it’s clear we need elected officials and policymakers who represent and lift up the voices of all our communities.
In Silicon Valley, we may pride ourselves on our progressive values. But as a candidate for Campbell City Council, many conversations I’ve had with those of us in the LGBTQ+ community have demonstrated that we have more work to do to truly lead in this area.
There are many ways in which our region has been ahead of the curve: Santa Clara County’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs is a national model, and we have a vibrant LGBTQ+ nonprofit community which works closely with local government.
Yet problems persist.
LGBTQ+ individuals, for example, are disproportionately more likely to be homeless or housing insecure. And despite questions about methodology, the latest Santa Clara County Homeless Point-in-Time Count showed a clear increase in the number of LGBTQ+ individuals in the South Bay, particularly among younger people.
Just this year, the county opened a shelter to serve LGBTQ+ individuals. With 20 beds, the shelter is regularly filled, with a waitlist to get in. We should expand support for this resource, but our cities also have a responsibility to work aggressively to attack housing insecurity and affordability issues at the root. You can’t call claim to be a progressive on gay and queer rights, while fighting against housing policy that has the potential to make a transformative impact for the community.
Especially critical in these conversations about job security and housing are the ways in which non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals are changing the face of the LGBTQ+ movement. While folks outside the gender binary have always existed, study after study shows a growing number of youth who identify as trans and non-binary.
It’s important that local government and service providers have the training and education to serve this population, especially as California has started issuing state IDs with a nonbinary marker this year thanks to recent legislation. And as the Supreme Court hears cases that will affect the employment rights of this population, our local governments can do their part by increasing hiring of folks from this community.
If there’s one common thread to the many conversations I’ve had, it’s the lack of queer and gay spaces in the South Bay. It’s something I’m working on personally, because while we have incredible resources such as the Billy DeFrank Center, and events like SV Pride that draw people from around the Bay Area, there remains a need for other spaces for LGBTQ+ folks to build community on a more casual, ongoing basis. Local businesses could host weekly or one-off events, while cities and nonprofits can collaborate on bringing people together for larger ones.
As trans historian Susan Stryker has documented, these kinds of spaces have been critical in helping build broader gay, queer, and trans movements which have driven policy and social change. And at the same time, they’ll enrich and strengthen our South Bay culture and community as a whole.
There’s one last thing. Campbell’s City Hall has never flown the pride flag in all the city’s history. As council member, I’ll make sure that changes.
Sergio Lopez is a nonprofit leader and candidate for Campbell City Council. He graduated from Yale, works in youth leadership and civic engagement, and sits on the Board of Directors of the Campbell Historical Museum Foundation. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].