Cupertino elects first gay councilmember
J.R. Fruen talks to a Cupertino voter before Election Day. He is the city's first LGBTQ councilmember. Photo courtesy of J.R. Fruen campaign.

Cupertino is getting its first-ever LGBTQ councilmember, and advocates say it’s only the beginning.

J.R. Fruen, an attorney and third-generation Cupertino resident, won a seat on the Cupertino City Council in a crowded race against seven other candidates. Fruen came in third, securing one of three council seats and receiving 15.9% of the vote, or 7,701 votes. He was sworn in on Friday evening.

Fruen said visibility for LGBTQ policymakers encourages other potential candidates to enter politics even if campaigns end in defeat. He previously ran for a city council seat in 2020.

“You can’t win unless you run,” Fruen, 43, told San José Spotlight. “(My win) hopefully will demonstrate to other people who might have been concerned that they couldn’t win just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity that no, that’s maybe not true.”

While candidates expect attacks during elections, Fruen said he dealt with homophobic comments unrelated to his political platform.

“I received a disproportionate amount of negative attention, and a lot of that was directed at my sexual identity and not at true policy issues,” Fruen told San José Spotlight. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, especially in certain pockets of the county to help people understand the humanity of the LGBTQ community.”

J.R. Fruen, pictured at his swearing in, is Cupertino’s first LGBTQ councilmember. Fruen is an attorney and third-generation Cupertino resident. Photo courtesy of J.R. Fruen campaign.

Santa Clara Councilmember Anthony Becker also faced homophobic slurs and death threats ahead of the November general election in his unsuccessful run against Mayor Lisa Gillmor. Some Santa Clara County school board candidates also expressed homophobic and transphobic views in campaign materials.

Gabrielle Antolovich, board president of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center in San Jose, said Silicon Valley has elected officials who are generally supportive of the LGBTQ community—but true representation still matters. The community faces backlash and safety concerns nationwide and in Santa Clara County, Antolovich said, and policies need to keep LGBTQ individuals in mind.

“I came out in 1966. I never imagined having an elected official being part of the queer community,” Antolovich told San José Spotlight. “It’s always a special joy for me… young people get to see the possibilities for themselves.”

Fruen’s win signals a new moment of hope for the city, said Cupertino resident Neil Park-McClintick, who chairs Cupertino for All, a grassroots organization. The city has struggled to have conversations with the LGBTQ community in the past, Park-McClintick said, including a movement to implement a rainbow crosswalk last year that ultimately resulted in a smaller rainbow-colored stripe on the road.

“What we ended up with was a very thin strip that is barely visible,” Park-McClintick told San José Spotlight. “To me, that is almost emblematic of the city and its acceptance toward LGBTQ people. It’s sort of like, ‘Yes, we accept you,’ but it’s not to the level of affirmation, inclusion and love.”

Assemblymember Evan Low said Fruen’s experiences will be crucial in leading and policymaking. Low was the first Asian American and gay Campbell councilmember and mayor, and still represents Cupertino, Campbell and parts of San Jose.

“(Fruen’s) election to the Cupertino City Council is historic in ensuring representation from the LGBTQ community,” Low told San José Spotlight. “I have no doubt that his lived experiences will serve the city well.”

Fruen’s priorities include addressing housing issues and working with elected officials at the state level. While his win is still sinking in, he’s excited to get started.

“Cupertino is not just a place that can govern itself and govern itself well,” Fruen said, “but it can become an example.”

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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