Robinson: Film highlights the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in Silicon Valley
Rainbow flag. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

If you went back to 1978 and said gay people would be able to get married, there would be openly gay elected officials or that gay and transgender people would serve as cabinet members in the United States of America, nobody would have believed it. In fact, many states still outlawed the private lives of individuals in our nation.

But today, most people rarely arch an eyebrow at the idea of a free and equal LGBTQ+ community. In historical terms, the change has been meteoric.

Now, a film specifically about the history of the LGBTQ+ community is playing on Comcast and may soon appear elsewhere around the nation.

“Queer Silicon Valley” premiered on Feb. 25 at the Hammer Theatre Center in downtown San Jose. Produced and directed by former Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, the film chronicles the rise of the LGBTQ+ community and its fight for equality in our valley.

From gay bars to drag queen contests, through the AIDS pandemic to parades and real political and economic power. The fight for equality was never easy.

There are many heroes in the movie, but the work of the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee (BAYMEC), the political organization created by Wiggsy Sivertsen and Yeager, takes on tremendous significance. A single politician showed up to the group’s first fundraiser—former Councilmember Iola Williams. Today, an endorsement by BAYMEC is a heavily sought and actively promoted symbol of pride for all those seeking elected office.

Former Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, former Councilmember Iola Williams and Wiggsy Sivertsen. Photo courtesy of Rich Robinson.

As a young journalist for the Spartan Daily in 1978, I recall Sivertsen was an oft-quoted advocate for civil liberties in the campus newspaper. During editorial sessions, Spartan Daily advisors would question the student reporters on why they included her views. It was sometimes shocking the way the advisors would berate the student journalists for using her as a source. Much to the credit of the Spartan Daily staff, reporters kept quoting her in the face of that hostility.

Sivertsen will go down in history as an icon for her community, but she was a champion for all oppressed communities. By organizing and creating allies, the LGBTQ+ community has overcome a tremendous amount of hostility, especially in Silicon Valley and in a county that once voted to allow active discrimination of people by sexual orientation in 1980, just 32 years ago.

As a film, “Queer Silicon Valley” uses the lives of Sivertsen and many others to preserve the history of overcoming prejudice in our valley. The fight for equality still goes on, but the advancement of the LGBTQ+ community has been stunning and remarkable.

San José Spotlight columnist Rich Robinson is a political consultant, attorney and author of “The Shadow Candidate.” His columns appear every fourth Wednesday of the month.

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