South Bay LGBTQ office hires new manager

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday June 22, 2022
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Sera Fernando was named the new manager of Santa Clara County's Office of LGBTQ Affairs on June 31. Photo: Courtesy Office of LGBTQ Affairs
Sera Fernando was named the new manager of Santa Clara County's Office of LGBTQ Affairs on June 31. Photo: Courtesy Office of LGBTQ Affairs

Santa Clara County's Office of LGBTQ Affairs has a new leader. Sera Fernando, a Filipina asexual queer transgender person, was named leader of the county department June 13.

Fernando was appointed by Rocio Luna, deputy county executive, and former Office of LGBTQ Affairs manager Maribel Martínez.

Martínez, the office's first manager, was promoted to program manager III in the county's Division of Equity and Social Justice in July 2021, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Fernando, 42, had been serving as the office's interim manager and senior management analyst since January 18. She replaced Daniel Moretti, who has a master's of science degree and was the office's program manager who served as interim manager under the same provision since April 2020, Martínez stated in a June 13 email to the Bay Area Reporter. Moretti took the community engagement lead at PRIDEnet/The Pride Study at Stanford University in January, according to his LinkedIn profile.

During the early days of the pandemic in 2020, Martínez was pulled out of the LGBTQ affairs office to work in the county's Emergency Operations Center, along with many other employees. She told the B.A.R. in July of that year that the office was still operating virtually, serving the South Bay's LGBTQ community through the global public health crisis. Despite Moretti stepping in as interim manager, Martínez remained involved leading the department until she stepped into her new role, Fernando clarified.

Martínez praised Fernando.

"Sera brings a wealth of experience promoting equity initiatives in the private sector and community organizations," Martínez stated, applauding Fernando's "expertise in community engagement, use of a sexual orientation and gender identity, or SOGI lens, for policy analysis, and leading dynamic teams."

"Her work within the county has contributed toward expanded access to services for the transgender community. All of her skills and experiences will undoubtedly benefit the community as we continue this work through this pandemic and into recovery," Martínez wrote.

Moretti, a 38-year-old gender-nonconforming queer who uses all pronouns, said they were "ecstatic and thrilled" upon hearing the news that Fernando was going to be the new manager of the county's LGBTQ office.

"I think she is the perfect person to be stepping into that role," they said. "I'm very excited to see all of the impactful work that we'll continue to see out of the office and now under Sera's leadership."

Moretti, who worked side by side with Fernando for two years during the pandemic, described her as a "star." They told the B.A.R. that she is one of the most "passionate and community-driven people that I've ever worked with."

"You can really tell the heart at the work of what Sera does is really [about] the community and serving the community," Moretti said, stating they were inspired by Fernando. It was "a really amazing experience" to work with "a colleague that brings that level of dedication, but also like all of her warmth and energy."

Fernando had just started in her new role as the senior management analyst at the county's Office of LGBTQ Affairs in 2020 when the pandemic hit. The office was left with Fernando and Moretti to serve the community as the other six staff members, like Martínez, were pulled from the office to respond to COVID-19, she said.

"What we had to do was very creative," Fernando, who uses she/her pronouns, said, recalling those first months during the crisis. She asked herself, "'What can we do to continue to support the community?' and from that came a lot of opportunities."

The team tapped into community partners — county agencies and nonprofit organizations — connecting those who contacted the office to resources while they pivoted to focus on strategy, research, and informing policies to better serve the South Bay's LGBTQ community, she told the B.A.R.

Slowly, as the county wrangled the pandemic into a manageable health crisis, two of the office's employees, Crystal Haney, a community worker, and Erin Fitzgerald, a graphic designer II, returned to their roles in April 2022, according to Fernando.

Dream job

Fernando wanted to work at the Office of LGBTQ Affairs since its founding, she said. The office opened in 2016.

The San Jose native was born to Filipino immigrants. Her father was in the military and her mother was a conservative Catholic. Fernando gradually came to an understanding of her gender through a painful coming out process that included her temporarily separating herself from her parents as she sought her own truth finding the LGBTQ community, she said. Like many queer people, she found her chosen family, and eventually, she reunited with her parents, but their relationship isn't perfect, she said.

She applied for the transgender director position, in 2018, but did not get the job.

Fernando did not take the rejection as a defeat but as an opportunity to grow. She said that she immediately realized she needed more than her "lived experience" to become a "professional queer" and create policy and new initiatives to "change the hearts and minds of others to be more trans-affirming and inclusive."

"I took from not getting that role the first time, just taking that energy and seeing where I could apply it elsewhere because I felt like this was the role that I was meant to do," she said about "taking no as the opportunity to just learn and see what I could do better."

"I just need to be involved in this way because the movement was much bigger than myself, but I just know that my contribution, what I could give back to this world is much more granular within social equity and social justice," she said.

Fernando worked for Microsoft's stores as an experience manager where she managed upward of 60 employees for close to eight years prior to working at the Office of LGBTQ Affairs, she said.

She transitioned in her mid-30s while at Microsoft, helping the technology Fortune 500 company develop its transgender employee health care and policies. She was also the outreach director for the company's LGBTQ employee resource group, GLEAM.

"Microsoft gave me a lot more confidence to contribute more to my local community," Fernando said.

Fernando also gained strength from celebrity transgender activists fellow Filipina and model Geena Rocero, actor Laverne Cox, and author Janet Mock. Others who influenced her were Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center board president Gabrielle Antolovich, who identifies as a nonbinary queer person, and Adrienne Keel, a lesbian who is director of LGBTQ programs at LGBTQ Youth Space, a program of Family and Children's Services of Silicon Valley.

Antolovich did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment.

"Sera is a phenomenal community leader because she approaches her advocacy work with equal parts passion, vivacity, and warmth. She is a fierce presence, and at the same time she remains incredibly humble and kind," wrote Keel, who has worked with Fernando for more than three years, in an email interview with the B.A.R.

Keel gave an example of what she described as Fernando's "exemplary leadership." Due to Fernando's assistance LGBTQ Youth Space's LGBTQ Wellness program received resources to hold three transgender, gender expansive, and intersex community roundtables, two in English and one in Spanish, she wrote in an email.

The meetings allowed the space's team "to hear directly from TGI folks about their experiences living and working in Santa Clara County" which is now being used to inform potential policies and procedures in the county, Keel explained.

"Sera does an amazing job of recognizing when and where there are gaps in services, and which communities are being missed," Keel wrote, expressing her appreciation for Fernando's partnership working to improve services for the South Bay's LGBTQ community. "I am eager to see her continue to build relationships with providers and community members, so that Santa Clara County becomes an even safer and affirming place for all of our LGBTQ+ residents and employees."

In 2017, Fernando began volunteering for Silicon Valley Pride, where she now serves as a volunteer chief diversity officer. In 2019, she started serving on the board of governors for the Human Rights Campaign Bay Area where she continues to work on diversity, inclusion, and equity issues. She also serves on Santa Clara County's new Hate Crimes Task Force. She was also a council member for Women's Equality 2020.

Despite all her volunteer work within Microsoft and in San Jose's LGBTQ community, Fernando said her work at Microsoft was "no longer challenging." She found herself wanting more.

A new opportunity at the Office of LGBTQ Affairs opened up two years ago. Armed with three years of solid community service and leadership experience, Fernando applied again. This time she got the job.

"I was able to much more eloquently tell my story," she said.

In March, Fernando was honored for her leadership in the community for Women's History Month. A banner depicting Fernando created by artist Jess Gutierrez for the Womanhood Project was put up in downtown San Jose, along with 25 other banners and murals, five of which recognized Silicon Valley's lesbian leaders.


In more than two years at the office, Fernando assisted redirecting it from providing direct services for the LGBTQ community to becoming a research-based policy, initiative, and program advisory department, as well as a training organization for community and government agencies. She also helped develop the fellowship program.

The office released the county's first-ever LGBTQ seniors report in 2021, which is informing the office's initiatives, policies, and programs that it plans to develop for queer elders. More community reports are expected to be released soon. Fernando also led a virtual summit, Transgender Economic Environment, with keynote speakers Aria Sa'id, Janetta Johnson, and Honey Mahogany from San Francisco's Transgender District. She's currently working on producing the 2022 summit scheduled for October, she said.

"The work that we've accomplished within the past two years was really built on a solid foundation," and vision for where the office planned to head toward, Fernando said.

Fernando said she plans to ensure the office is community-informed and data-driven, based on research "to help inform the policies and initiatives we wish to create," she said.

She also plans to continue working toward making South Bay city and county governments more inclusive — from forms to training agencies — on LGBTQ cultural sensitivity as well as assess the effectiveness of the training.

Most of all, she wants to make "sure that the office reflects the community wishes, to serve and make sure that we do this by the community we want to represent."

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