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Mountain View signals its pride

Locals talk about being LGBTQ on the Midpeninsula

Mountain View City Council members took a quick break from their meeting on June 4 to raise the pride flag outside City Hall. Waiting for John McAllister to join them are, from left, Lucas Ramirez, Alison Hicks, Chris Clark, Lisa Matichak, Ellen Kamei and Margaret Abe-Koga. Photo by Magali Gauthier

In 2014, Mountain View City Council member Chris Clark bought a rainbow flag with his own money, and at the end of Pride Month in June, he packed it away until the next year when he would again petition his council colleagues to raise the symbol of the LGBTQ community.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the event that launched the modern gay rights movement. Formerly known as "Gay Pride Month," the name was shortened to include all members of the LGBTQ community.

Many cities now routinely fly a rainbow flag in June, but Clark's motion in 2014 to raise the flag faced pushback on the council and by some residents. For the next three years he sought permission annually, until last year, when he worked with council members and city staff to modify the city's municipal code. Now Mountain View will fly the pride flag every year without needing a council vote.

Clark said he grew up in a conservative family in the Midwest, and without many out and visibly queer people to look up to, the rainbow flag was one of the few pieces of symbolism that made him feel seen. Although Clark had come out before the start of his City Council campaign in 2012, he was not yet out to his family. He said he decided to fly home and to have that conversation, knowing that in order to gain the trust of his constituents he would need to be open with everyone in his life.

If one is looking for symbols of LGBTQ life in Mountain View, the flag is one of the more public markers. Clark notes that Mountain View is a lot more "subdued" than LGBTQ havens like San Francisco.

Being trans at MVHS

Peer-to-peer support at Mountain View High School, like at the district's middle schools, is integral to LGBTQ life, according Jehan Rasmussen, president of the school's Queer Student Alliance (QSA). Rasmussen, a junior, is a trans student who said that there is a positive network and community of trans students, though the greater student body is still working to unlearn internalized bias and transphobia. The QSA club is a reprieve for LGBTQ students and a place to develop friendships with others who may experience bullying, harassment or microaggressions, Rasmussen said.

While Mountain View high is fairly inclusive, Rasmussen said that bullying is more likely to consist of ignorant comments about gender and sexuality. Even with faculty, Rasmussen said that it's not necessarily a lack of tolerance or acceptance, but awareness of the everyday elements that make high school life for a trans student difficult or uncomfortable, such as proper pronoun usage. Pronouns, which are just as integral to a person''s identity as a name, can often be misused. This is called 'misgendering,' which occurs in part by unaware faculty and substitute teachers who, despite being informed, forget to ask, Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen said that the QSA conducts educational programming and encourages teachers to ask student's for their preferred pronouns as well as their names. Teachers are generally willing to learn about their LGBTQ students: "A lot of teachers put in effort at the beginning of the year and then forget about it," Rasmussen said.

But most of the time, Rasmussen said, life at Mountain View high as a trans student is free of larger roadblocks. They feel safe at school and participate in social life without thinking of potential bullying.

California has some of the most comprehensive protections in place for LGBTQ students, according to the Human Rights Watch. Under California education code, schools must protect students from bullying or harassment for sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the ACLU. Teachers in California public schools are not prohibited from discussing LGBTQ issues, as they are in eight other U.S. states.

Rainbow Chamber of Commerce

There is a Castro Street in Mountain View, and while it's not anything like the LGBTQ mecca that is San Francisco's Castro District, there is a Silicon Valley Rainbow Chamber of Commerce. The group aims to create a network of LGBTQ businesses and their owners, and works to educate the public and local governments about issues that affect the LGBTQ community.

Jamie Merz, a member of the Rainbow Chamber of Commerce and co-owner of The Point Collective, a San Jose based graphic design firm, said that the Silicon Valley feels more assimilated in its queer culture. Merz said she is not surrounded by many other queer parents, though she has never felt out of place. "I certainly don't move through life feeling like a minority," Merz said.

In recent years, LGBTQ people have engaged in a debate about the presence of corporations at pride parades and celebrations, but Merz says that she likes seeing companies like Facebook and Google present themselves as allies to LGBTQ people. "I'm such a believer that our allies to really important work," Merz said.

There's no pride parade held for Mountain View this month you'll have to travel to San Francisco or the East Bay for that, as Councilmember Clark did when he was younger.

"I remember coming out here and not even at pride, just in the Castro district for the very first time. Seeing same-sex couples holding hands. Or dressed in far more expressive ways than we would have dressed where we grew up," Clark said. "You realize that's one of the most powerful statements that you can make."

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