For the past week the national headlines may have been focused on Joe Biden’s victory over President Trump and the historic implications of the election of Kamala Harris as vice president.
However, a much quieter revolution was occurring as well. The 2020 election saw a record-shattering number of LGBTQ+ people running for public office around the country, and in Santa Clara County in particular, that is going to have historic implications for our community.
In 2018, the surprise rush of 432 LGBTQ+ candidates was dubbed the “rainbow wave.” It turns out that was just the beginning.
In 2020, 574 LGBTQ+ candidates lined up to run for office in the general election, and for the second election in a row LGBTQ+ people were elected to public office in historic numbers. On election night, 160 LGBTQ+ candidates secured victories.
Among the victors were 8 trans/non-binary candidates, including Sarah McBride, who will be the first trans/non-binary person to serve in a State Senate chamber. Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres are headed for the U.S. House of Representatives as the first Black and Afro-Latino LGBTQ+ Congressmen in history.
California also saw the historic election of Todd Gloria in San Diego who will become the first out LGBTQ+ and person of color to run the nation’s 8th largest city.
The 2020 rainbow wave hit Silicon Valley as well. The Silicon Valley Stonewall Democrats identified 16 LGBTQ+ candidates running for office this year in Santa Clara County. Among the most high-profile office-seekers were John Laird running for State Senate, Evan Low and Alex Lee running for the State Assembly and Ketzal Gomez running for County Board of Education.
There were also five LGBTQ+ candidates running for city councils, six running for school boards and one in a local water district election.
Of these 16 candidates, at least nine were elected or re-elected to office. Laird, Low and Lee will all be going to the State Legislature next year. Rene Spring was easily re-elected to the Morgan Hill City Council for a second term. Anthony Becker and Alysa Cisneros will be joining the Santa Clara and Sunnyvale City Council, respectively, and Carla Hernandez, Ivan Rosales Montes, Jesus Salazar and Omar Torres will be stepping into school board seats.
This new class will join current LGBTQ+ elected officials Richard Nguyen (Campbell Union School District), Jorge Pacheko, Jr. (Oak Grove School District), and Shay Franco-Clausen (Open Space Authority). To have 12 LGBTQ+ elected leaders serving together is an unprecedented level of representation.
However, there’s still another story here. This new class of LGBTQ+ candidates will continue the trend of millennials and people of color stepping up to lead in our community.
Lee, a 25-year-old bisexual man, will be the first Gen Z and first bisexual member of the State Assembly. Cisneros, a queer woman of color, will bring a diverse perspective to a council that has long been lacking in racial and sexual orientation diversity. Montes will be only the second out LGBTQ+ person to serve in the more conservative south county. Representation matters, especially at the local level, and these young LGBTQ+ leaders are bringing key voices to the table.
Sadly, there were a number of missed opportunities as well. Ali Sapirman was hoping to be the first trans/non-binary person elected in the county but came up short in the race for the San Jose-Evergreen Community College District board.
Ketzal Gomez also wasn’t able to topple Joe Di Salvo at the County Board of Education, despite Di Salvo’s censure by the Board and condemnation by the local Democratic Party.
In Palo Alto and Cupertino, entrenched NIMBYs successfully but narrowly fended off a swath of pro-housing candidates, including LGBTQ+ candidates Raven Malone and JR Fruen. Fortunately, all of these were first-time candidates and we expect to see them run again in the future.
The influx of LGBTQ+ people into the halls of power will have massive implications for both our county and the nation. At the national level, LGBTQ+ people will be at the forefront of Democratic efforts to reverse four years of anti-LGBTQ+ policies and finally pass the Equality Act.
At the state and local level, LGBTQ+ leaders will bring critical perspectives on the housing crisis, homelessness and educational disparities, all issues where LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately impacted.
As we celebrate the impending inauguration of a new president, let’s also celebrate the incredible electoral gains the LGBTQ+ community has made this year.
Michael Vargas is a business and securities lawyer and a part-time professor at Santa Clara University Law School. Vargas also chairs the American Bar Association’s committee on Business Law Education and serves on the executive board of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party, and on the boards of BAYMEC and the Rainbow Chamber of Commerce.
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