Maribel Martinez is a San Jose native who oversees Santa Clara County’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, the first public agency department of its kind. As a queer Latina, Martinez strives to improve the lives of the LGBTQ community where she was born and raised. In addition to speaking with Martinez about her job and favorite things to do in San Jose, she also spoke about the community’s response to the recent terror attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
How long have you lived/worked in the Bay Area?
I am a San José native and have spent my life working with many groups and organizations across the Bay Area in San José, Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco.
What is your favorite thing about living in the Bay Area?
The Bay Area is a wonderful combination of innovation, diversity, great weather. As such, I have benefited from its technological advances, thriving arts and culture scene, and culinarily hubs. The Bay Area is an interesting mixture of new and old; with so much historical significance and a leader for “thinking different.” As a queer daughter of Mexican immigrants, the Bay Area has given me a great sense of pride. The political movements led by Mexican Americans, Native American and LGBTQ communities have informed my thinking and connected me with wonderful networks of leaders fighting for justice.
What is your favorite restaurant in San Jose?
My wife and I consider ourselves foodies. From food trucks to fine dining, I like to explore all that the San José food scene has to offer. A couple of our current favorites are Zona Rosa, Omagari, Tacos al Carbon (especially with the live Mariachi) and Zonatto’s Deli.
What is one thing you would change about San Jose?
San José is great. I would like for all families to be able to stay for as long as they want to. Keeping San José affordable is a top concern. I know college students who go a whole day without eating, multiple families who share small spaces, elders who are struggling to pay the rent and folks on the streets with limited options for stable housing. As a community that thrives, innovates and creates, we have to ensure that ALL residents have their basic needs met, especially those from marginalized communities.
What Silicon Valley event do you most look forward to every year?
Silicon Valley has so many events to attend, from concerts to festivals. I love them all. Every year you can find me at the July Frida Kahlo event at the School of Arts and Culture and the Jazz Festival events in downtown. Of course, I also really enjoy all the activities put on by The Queerceañera Project, an LGBTQ Latinx collaborative I started in 2013.
What does the county Office of LGBTQ Affairs do?
The Office does many things. Some quick bullet points are below.
Training: Train county staff and community stakeholders on LGBTQ issues as they relate to clients, residents and employees.
Individualized, Case-specific Assistance: Offer guidance to county departments seeking to fairly and properly serve LGBTQ individuals.
Cross-departmental Best Practices: Ensure all county departments are following best practices when it comes to treatment of LGBTQ clients, residents and employees.
External Relations: Represent the County to local, state and national government agencies, school districts and nonprofit organizations on LGBTQ issues.
Communications: Develop the office’s communication strategies and efforts, including a website, pamphlets and directories.
Resource Development: Identify gaps in services to LGBTQ residents and develop resources to address them.
Community Engagement and Mobilization: Play a role in promoting and collaborating on LGBTQ community events, including those that foster dialogue and increase access to services for the most disenfranchised members of the LGBTQ community.
Measuring Progress: Develop an evaluation metric to determine the effectiveness of the office on each of the above responsibilities.
What is your favorite part of the job?
The best thing about my job is that I get to spend 40 hours-plus a week thinking about ways that I can improve the lives of LGBTQ individuals and their families. Creating a brighter future for an entire county motivates me to do all that I can do to make it happen.
What were you doing when you learned about the Orlando nightclub shooting?
My wife and I were just getting our Sunday morning started when we turned on the radio and logged on to social media. We stopped what we were doing and were glued to the radio. I recall a moment when we just sat on our bed holding each other. But like many, I knew I had to do something. I connected with community leaders and headed out to the store to pick up supplies for the upcoming community gatherings. As a queer Latina, it has been a challenging week, managing emotions while still making sure important tasks were completed. Most reflections this week for me include a reaffirmation that LGBTQ lives are precious and that this work is important.
What can people do to help the local LGBTQ community, now and in the future?
There are so many things people can do to make our community better. In general, we can reach out to LGBTQ friends and family and ask how to support, we can interrupt any homophobic statements we hear and report any suspicious activity we see. We can also check with schools, business and faith communities to adopt an anti-discrimination policy and make spaces accessible to LGBTQ communities. In response to the tragedy in Orlando, residents from Santa Clara County can help by:
- Giving to the Victims Fund of the Pulse shooting;
- Promoting local LGBTQ organizations that promote justice, equality and wellness for our community;
- Donating blood (Unfortunately, sexually active gay and bisexual men still cannot give blood.)
- Signing our online pledge and stand against homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and hate of all kinds, and reporting discrimination, gaps in services and suggestions to The Office of LGBTQ Affairs to our email.