Pride and Prejudice in Santa Clara County: Ken Yeager Shares Lessons in Political Courage for Today’s Activists

Former Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager shared stories from his political career and gave advice for aspiring elected officials at a talk at the Campbell Community Center on Monday, June 24. Yeager is the author of Run! My Story of LGBTQ+ Political Power, Equality, and Acceptance in Silicon Valley and two other works.

Yeager started his journey into the world of public affairs in the 1970s, working as a press deputy for former San Jose area U.S. House member Don Edwards. During this time, he also became active in the cause of equal rights for LGBTQ+ people, helping to organize against the divisive Briggs Initiative.

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, Ken continued with his advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights, which included his own decision to publicly out himself despite receiving personal and political attacks from opponents. He became the county’s first openly gay elected official when he became Trustee at the Evergreen Community College District in 1992.

Using skills he had gained through his campaign work throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Yeager was able to rely on a network of fellow activists to then run for a seat on the San José City Council, winning on his second attempt in 2000. From there he was able to move up to the position of Santa Clara County Supervisor in 2006, using a combination of grassroots organizing and shrewd politicking to secure the endorsements of usual opponents organized labor and the business community. He won outright in the primary against two well-known opponents.

Yeager was in office during the painful experience for LGBTQ+ people of the marriage wars of Proposition 22 (2000) and Proposition 8 (2008), in which California voters twice chose to prohibit same sex couples from marrying. And in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court voted narrowly to recognize a right to marry for all. Yeager was able to marry several dozen happy couples at that time and related how he runs across them still!

While on the County Board of Supervisors, Yeager had many accomplishments, including the creation of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs and establishing a multidisciplinary transgender health clinic through Santa Clara Valley Medical Center to ensure that trans and nonbinary people have a fully informed and welcoming place to receive their health services.

Looking forward, Yeager predicted that the next battles in the political arena impacting the LGBTQ+ community will be over rights concerning gender diversity. Yeager remains in the fight and advises all those concerned about these latest challenges to roll up their sleeves and organize. Read an online chapter from Yeager’s latest work here. The Library has three of his books in our collection. Run!, The Long Struggle for LGBTQ Equality in Santa Clara County, and Battle Against HIV/AIDS.