LGBTQ summit returns to South Bay

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday November 1, 2023
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Lorna Sumatra, a South Bay preventative health educator for youth and young adults, asked a question at the fifth annual LGBTQ+ Summit, "All Work is Work," in San Jose. Photo: Heather Cassell
Lorna Sumatra, a South Bay preventative health educator for youth and young adults, asked a question at the fifth annual LGBTQ+ Summit, "All Work is Work," in San Jose. Photo: Heather Cassell

A popular LGBTQ summit returned to an in-person format for the first time in three years, as nearly 200 queer and allied activists and community organizers met in San Jose.

The Santa Clara County Office of LGBTQ Affairs held the fifth annual summit, themed "All Work is Work," October 27 at the Holiday Inn San Jose.

"It's lovely seeing a lot of community members that we typically see outside of our office," Sera Fernando, manager of the LGBTQ affairs office, told the Bay Area Reporter. "Now for all of us to come into the space and learn about what 'all work is work' means to different industries, different trades, different sectors — it's just really cool to see. Everyone seems very excited."

Fernando is the second manager of the office, as the B.A.R. reported last year. The 43-year-old Filipina asexual queer transgender person succeeded the office's first manager Maribel Martínez, a queer woman of color, who was promoted in 2022.

Previous summits covered LGBTQ community resources and support, especially for LGBTQ youth; transgender economic empowerment; and intersectionality.

The summit went virtual in 2020 with the COVID-19 shutdown. It remained virtual in 2021 and 2022. The first summit in 2019 attracted approximately 150 attendees to the Campbell Community Center. This year's event saw a slight uptick to 160 attendees.

Fernando noted in an email to the B.A.R. October 30 that one of the biggest shifts of the summit in its first five years was moving from a "resource-focused event to a research-focused event." Additionally, making the summit "relevant to current LGBTQ+ cultural climate," she added, noting the more than 500 pieces of anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender legislation across the country.

She noted that the summit faced challenges during its first five years. Two of the biggest were moving the event to a virtual format during COVID and getting buy-in from county executives and management, she wrote. Fernando stated that learning how to "drive engagement" virtually and county leadership investment to allow their teams to attend the summit, "especially LGBTQ+ allies wanting to drive DEI (diversity, equality, and inclusion) initiatives," was hard. However, the successes far outweighed the challenges, she stated. During the first five years, the office maintained stable summit attendance numbers; built stronger relationships and coalitions between resource providers, panelists, presenters, and attendees; and connected with a broader Bay Area audience and even attendees from other cities in California and the United States.

This year, Santa Clara County District 1 Supervisor Sylvia Arenas, an ally and the first Democrat to win office in the conservative rural district in 25 years, opened the summit with gay former District 4 county supervisor Ken Yeager.

Yeager, 70, was the county's first openly gay supervisor until he was termed out of office in early 2019 after a 12-year run. He was previously the first gay person to serve on the San Jose City Council, as the B.A.R. reported. He left the county's LGBTQ community in good standing with the creation of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs and other agencies and programs that grew out of the 2013 health survey he spearheaded, the B.A.R. also reported.

Summit attendees learned about LGBTQ lived experiences and how they can benefit organizations, sex workers' health and harm reduction practices, work experiences in a diverse array of industries, and LGBTQ entrepreneurship.

"Lessons from Diverse Work Experiences" panelist Lyseria Kursave, president of the South Bay Chapter of Pride at Work, was at the summit to talk about non-traditional workplaces.

Pride at Work is an LGBTQ organization supporting union workers and their allies, according to its website.

Kursave, 38, a union electrician, is a self-identified bisexual, polyamorous monoromantic transgender woman, and transitioned while on the job in the male-dominated construction industry.

She wanted to broaden the definition of workplaces beyond the traditional office environment.

"We always think of 'professional' as working in an office," she said. "There are so many professionals who don't work in an office.

"I don't have an office," she continued. "I have never been given a human resources department phone number on any job site I've ever worked.

"I don't know the last time I've had sexual harassment training outside of my union," Kursave added. "My first line of defense — and this has nothing to do with me being transgender or queer — if there's an issue at work, [journeymen train you] to tell the person to fuck off."

Fernando said all the modules offered throughout the day were important, but she was personally excited about the entrepreneur session at the end of the day.

"That's going to be most exciting for me," she said. "We really want to inspire people to learn how to create their own pathways, their own voice, and really leverage their skills to make their own business models and be able to grow from there."

Coming together in community

"The community was just so delighted to be able to have an LGBTQ summit here in the South Bay," Fernando said. She noted the plethora of queer conferences and summits that happen all over the Bay Area, but that having one dedicated to the South Bay LGBTQ experience that was open to county employees, community organizations, service providers, and community members and students "was very important to us."

"That's why we're delighted to offer this to South Bay community members," she added.

Conference attendees agreed. Many were at the summit to network and meet other people working in queer spaces in the South Bay.

Lorna Sumatra, a Black queer woman who is a preventative health educator for youth and young adults in the county, said she wanted to "invest in my roots." The East San Jose native attended the event to connect with local queer community leaders and to support events like the summit happening in Santa Clara County.

"I just feel like there's just not a lot of activities that go on in the South Bay," said Sumatra, who has been involved in the LGBTQ community — especially communities of color — throughout the Bay Area for years. "Honestly, I want to see my people. I don't really get to see other people that care about making the community better and I know they exist and that's why I'm here."

Sumatra said she learned a lot from the "Sex Worker Health and Harm Reduction 101" module led by Robyn Learned, which was what she was most interested in at the summit. Learned is the manager of the drug user health team at the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors. She was not representing NASTAD at the summit.

Rabbi Lisa Levenberg, also known as Rabbi Q, attended the summit because she's on a mission to provide more services for the South Bay's LGBTQ Jewish community, something she sees lacking in San Jose and the county. The 48-year-old self-identified dyke was at the summit to network with local leaders and organizations to get a pulse on what is happening for the queer community in the county.

"I think it's possible to turn that around and kind of take a strength-based approach to thinking about San Jose and Santa Clara County," she said, stating that the South Bay city sometimes gets overshadowed by San Francisco and Oakland. She believes San Jose is "much more accessible than some of the other local cities in terms of getting to know the different organizations and community leaders that are doing the work."

Tessa Reynolds, the new rehabilitation counselor at the county's Behavioral Health Services Department's Q Corner, was glad to be surrounded by the South Bay's LGBTQ community providers and to get to know the community.

"I'm excited about everything that has to do with working in the queer community and just knowing that these spaces are provided in Santa Clara County," said Reynolds, 39, a queer nonbinary person who uses she/they pronouns.

Yeager, who is executive director of the BAYMEC Community Foundation, which supports programs and projects to promote the South Bay's LGBTQ community, such as Queer Silicon Valley, expressed the significance of the summit.

"It's so important for our community to be able to have summits like this where we talk about issues that are very critical to our community and is a place where people can gather and meet other people," said Yeager.

Queer Silicon Valley is a project documenting Silicon Valley's LGBTQ history, milestones, leaders, and accomplishments, according to its website.

Yeager was at the summit promoting his new memoir, "Run!: My Story of LGBTQ+ Political Power, Equality, and Acceptance in Silicon Valley," and talking with LGBTQ people interested in seeking elected office.

County agencies, such as the county's Behavioral Health Services and Employee Services Agency, and community organizations, like the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center and the LGBTQ Youth Space, were also represented.

Fernando is looking forward to the next five years of the summit.

"Our hope is for the LGBTQ+ Summit to be the largest LGBTQ+ summit in the South Bay, complete with more panels and keynote speakers representing LGBTQ+ equity and social justice work across the nation," she said.

For those who missed the summit, video recordings of the speakers and panel discussions will be available online at the county's Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs website and its YouTube channel by the end of November.

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