‘Gender revolution’: Santa Cruz County advocates celebrate landmark law

 Santa Cruzans Jamie Joy, Iris Berrera and Sparrow Frost identify as non-binary. (Shmuel Thaler -- Santa Cruz Sentinel) 

Santa Cruzans Jamie Joy, Iris Berrera and Sparrow Frost identify as non-binary. (Shmuel Thaler -- Santa Cruz Sentinel) 

Published Nov 1, 2017, By Nicholas Ibarra, Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ >> As the first person in the state officially recognized as neither male nor female, the passing of a new law paving the way for others to follow was a moment of celebration for Sara Kelly Keenan.

And the landmark legislative victory was one in which Keenan played a quiet but key role, ensuring the inclusion of “intersex” individuals such as herself whose biology has both male and female characteristics.

“I’m really glad that the people who come after me are going to have an easier time being legally recognized for who they really are,” said Keenan, 56, who retired from her home in Ben Lomond to Mexico weeks after the bill was signed. “There is such tremendous problem with depression and suicide in the nonbinary and trans community and a lot of that comes out of the world not knowing who we are and that we exist.”

Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Oct. 16, SB 179 — known as the Gender Recognition Act — makes it easier for a person to change their gender designation on birth certificates and state IDs, while also creating a third “nonbinary” category for those who identify as neither male or female.

It also removes the requirement for a court order or physician’s statement to change a person’s gender and eliminates an age requirement.

The law makes California the first state to officially recognize more than two genders on state identification. Earlier in the year, Oregon became first to allow its residents to choose not to specify their gender on state driver’s licenses.

 Sara Kelly Keenan, left of center, and Jamie Joy, right of center, pose in front of the state house after speaking in support of SB 179 in July. (Jamie Joy -- Contributed) 

Sara Kelly Keenan, left of center, and Jamie Joy, right of center, pose in front of the state house after speaking in support of SB 179 in July. (Jamie Joy -- Contributed) 

Authored by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Scott Weiner, D-San Francisco, the bill was also shepherded through the legislature by its principal co-author, Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley.

The politicians were backed by a coalition of individuals and groups including ACLU California, the California Teachers Association, state Planned Parenthood affiliates, and a host of individuals including Jamie Joy, youth program coordinator at the Diversity Center who identifies as nonbinary.

Opposition to the bill was limited, with just two groups — the California Family Council and Catholics for the Common Good Institute — and two individuals speaking out against the bill in Sacramento, claiming it could lead to identity fraud and cause issues with travel outside the state.

Joy and dozens more supporters carpooled to Sacramento to register their support at a July hearing.

“Our ideas of gender are rapidly evolving and what wasn’t catching up was the legal system and the laws to reflect the culture that’s shifting,” Joy said. “There’s basically a gender revolution happening.”


After years as one of the most vocal advocates for a bill like SB 179, Keenan said she was dismayed to find the language and presentation of the bill at first appeared to exclude people like her.

Keenan is biologically intersex, a blanket term applied to a category of conditions affecting the chromosomes, hormones and genitals and causing individuals to fall outside the binary definitions of male and female. She has male chromosomes and female genitalia, a rare condition called Swyer Syndrome.

About a half-percent of the population is thought to have intersex characteristics.

She said she sat at home watching a press conference on the bill in January that focused entirely on transgender and nonbinary gender identity.

“Since in this society we mix up sex and gender so much, it was clear to me that the people who were writing the bill were writing it in a way that completely erased intersex people from the scenario,” she said.

She said she immediately voiced her concerns to the office of Assemblyman Stone and received a personal reply from the assemblyman within a day.

Soon after, Keenan was invited to Sacramento to testify in front of the relevant committees, and Stone worked with Atkins and Weiner to modify the bill based on Keenan’s input. Now the term intersex features prominently in the bill, including a paragraph definition of the term and its context.

We were sort of being stonewalled in terms of the intersex advocacy community being allowed to participate in the legislative process, and (Stone) banged that door right open,” Keenan said.


Keenan said her attention now turns to fighting to end medically unnecessary surgeries performed on intersex infants for cosmetic reasons.

“We look down on certain parts of the world for female genital mutilation, but we mutilate the genitals of infants in this country every day strictly for appearance purposes,” she said.

For Stone, he said that on the inclusivity front he is returning to the less attention-grabbing work of making small changes to state codes.

“Ultimately,” said Stone, “I’ll go back to the initial mission of taking a look at California codes and finding where we can make them more inclusive, and knocking that off a bit at a time.”

While it failed to garner much media coverage, another Stone bill signed by the governor from the recent legislative session was AB 1556, which edited the Fair Employment and Housing Act to include gender neutral terms.

“The goal is to create government interactions, whether through forms or otherwise, that are as inclusive as possible so we don’t have to think twice about who is included, who is not included,” Stone said. “Everybody is included.”

Reach the author at or follow Nicholas on Twitter: @nickmibarra.


Santa Cruz mural artists, youth examine discrimination


Santa Cruz mural artists, youth examine discrimination

 “Unify, Decolonize, Thrive” is a mural that is collective and collaborative in both its message and its process. Queer and trans youth from across the county were involved in the design, a 70-foot-long visual story that moves through time, from the early battles for equality, through a shifting crossroad, to images of a future that embraces the fruits of intersectional activism.

The project, to be installed at Louden Nelson Community Center, is led by our Youth Coordinator, Jamie Joy, and is a collaboration that includes DC staff, artists (the talented mural artists Manny Garcia and Oliver Whitcroft), Arts Council Santa Cruz County, Beth Tobey & Santa Cruz City Arts, and Louden Nelson Community Center.

“The kids that I work with, they hold multiple identities; they’re not just thinking about the fact that they’re gay or trans or gender non-conforming. They’re also thinking about their families’ citizenship status and they’re also thinking about their class status and their mental health and they’re thinking about other issues that affect them also,” said Jamie Joy. “The way that I understand intersectionality is just being aware of multiple identities and how they impact someone’s privilege or lack of privilege in the world."

POSTED: 08/02/17, 4:41 PM PDT
Original Post here

SANTA CRUZ >> Dancers move to the tune of drumbeats on a heavily wooded shoreline while police officers practice yoga and a multiethnic group sails off together into the sunset.

In coming weeks, a new public mural, “Unify, Decolonize, Thrive” will take shape down a once ivy-covered wall bordering the Louden Nelson Community Center along Laurel Street. By the end of the 70-foot painting, Santa Cruz history steeped in slavery, seizure of tribal lands, Chinese indentured labor and Japanese internment camps of World War II will have evolved into a literally more colorful future where “we’re all in this together.”

Local teenager and mural collaborator Andrea Flores-Morgado spoke before the Santa Cruz Arts Commission in June, saying the mural symbolized the community’s struggle and resilience through time.

“We’re in a crossroads of destiny,” Flores-Morgado said, according to Santa Cruz Arts Program Manager Beth Tobey. “Our youth, our generation can look back into the past mistakes and move forward striving for this future or we can continue this cycle of oppression and not improve our lives.”

The mural’s themes will delve heavily into a term known as “intersectionality,” coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw as a way to reveal limitations of single-issue anti-discrimination laws.

Jamie Joy, who came up with the idea for a LGBTQ youth mural 18 months ago, teamed up with muralists Manny Garcia and Oliver Whitcroft for the project, which draws from input of teenagers across Santa Cruz County. Joy is a 2016 UC Santa Cruz graduate who now works as youth program coordinator for The Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County.

“The kids that I work with, they hold multiple identities; they’re not just thinking about the fact that they’re gay or trans or gender non-conforming. They’re also thinking about their families’ citizenship status and they’re also thinking about their class status and their mental health and they’re thinking about other issues that affect them also,” said Joy. “The way that I understand intersectionality is just being aware of multiple identities and how they impact someone’s privilege or lack of privilege in the world. I think the kids that we work with understand that on a deeper level than I did when I was 14 or 15 years old.”

Tobey, who leads the city’s public art efforts, said that LGBTQ community faces challenges with violence and discrimination. The Santa Cruz area also has people who “want to be allies to that community, but maybe don’t completely understand the best way to do that,” she said. To that end, Tobey has put out a public call for ideas on how to expand the mural’s impact and reach in the community.

“(The teens) want a richer, more complex dialogue around issues of LGBTQI people face, including how that intersects other characteristics that they may have or other communities that they may be part of,” Tobey said. “I got really excited about helping them take this beyond just a public art project and really making an impact on the community.”

Project leaders obtained a $1,000 grant from the Arts Council Santa Cruz County, and more recently, an $8,000 grant from the Santa Cruz City Arts, approved by the city Arts Commission in June. Working with Diversity Center peer Alex Santana Jr., Joy and the artists reached out to several teen groups for design input.

Both Tobey and Joy said they hope a public education event or symposium can be timed to the mural’s completion, potentially at the Louden Nelson Community Center and with the help of community partners.

For information, to get involved or to make painting supply donations, contact Tobey at and Joy at



“It’s hard to hate someone you know”

By Suki Wessling, Growing Up Santa Cruz, March 01, 2017.

When you type “diversity center” into your browser, the top hit will be for the one in Santa Cruz. That preferential placement probably reflects that your search engine knows you’re in Santa Cruz, but it also reflects a reality:

Santa Cruz’s Diversity Center was once “The” Diversity Center—the first, the only.

That’s not surprising for Santa Cruz, but unless you or a family member is on the gender spectrum, you might be surprised that living in our county as an LGBTQ youth is not all rainbows.

“Even in our community, which is far more welcoming then many communities in the country, you still regularly hear about children who are getting bullied or yelled at on the street,” explains Diversity Center Executive Director Sharon Papo. “We’ve come so far, and we have so much further to go.”



Carving Out a Safe Space for LGBTQ Youth in Santa Cruz County

By Calvin Men, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Saturdays are safe days for some LGBTQ teens in Santa Cruz County.

On Saturdays, the Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County hosts a meet-up event for LGBTQ for middle and high school students.

“A lot of students that come to our group aren’t just gay or lesbian. They’re also bisexual, pansexual, trans,” said Alex Santana, lead youth program coordinator for the Diversity Center. “They’re students who are questioning their gender. Those are the students we see coming more often that are experiencing transphobia or homophobia at school.”

The group meets regularly in Santa Cruz to hang out, as many of the teens describe. While hanging out can mean the usual for teens — snacks, jokes, internet videos, sitting on the couch — it can also mean heavier topics — bullying, sexual identity and navigating the nuances of gender.

There were 18 teens in Saturday’s session and the mood was lighthearted. The group gathered to celebrate Piper DeBella’s 14th birthday. Piper, who was born female and transitioned to male last year, was all smiles and joked with the group. But it’s different for him at school.

“At school, people say a lot of horrible stuff,” said the Aptos teen, adding that peers at his school make jokes about being gay.

The group allowed Piper to make friends without feeling judged. Many of the teens called the meeting a safe space to discuss those topics, which some said could and do ostracize them at school.

Max Brandt, a 17-year-old Santa Cruz resident who identifies as trans and gay, attends every week and has been a part of the program for at least three years.

“It gives us a chance to be who we are in a safe space where we know we won’t be judged for it,” he said.



Santana said the program fills a gap in the area. While there are a number of LGBTQ support programs in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, a majority are affiliated with academic institutions. This group is focused on middle and high school kids, he said.

While Santana said the perception of the LGBTQ community has shifted from tolerance to acceptance, there is still a lot of ignorance on issues out there and still discrimination.

“People talk about what’s going on in their schools. If they’re being harassed at a certain school, the kids share affirmative advice. They’re there for each other,” Santana said.

More than support the group’s morale, the Diversity Center also works in coalition with other county and city agencies to identify and change pockets of problems. Schools with the most challenges with LGBTQ students are identified and the organizations work to assist them with changing policy, Santana said.


What: LGBTQ youth meetup for middle and high school students

Watsonville: 3:30-6 p.m. Fridays at First Christian Church, 15 Madison St.

Santa Cruz: 1-3 p.m. Saturdays at The Diversity Center, 1117 Soquel Ave.



Beside Manners

Over the past year, the Diversity Center's medical initiative has led powerful trainings on Transgender Healthcare to create a more welcoming environment for transgender patients. With the help of Jennifer Hastings, director of transgender healthcare at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte; and UCSF assistant clinical professor, this work has created the possibility to expand proper treatment for transgender patients. Read the GoodTimes full article here.



LGBTQ+ Immigrant Issues

Even though a lot of work is left to be done to improve the lives of the LGBTQ+ community in the United States, our situation pales in comparison to the violence some LGBTQ+ communities face in other countries. For LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum in the United States (many from Central and South America), Immigration and Customs Enforcement subject detained LGBTQ+ immigrants to sexual assault and psychological torture. Click here to read Sharon Papo's Connection's Magazine article on LGBTQ+ Immigrant Issues.


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Gender Freedom

Thanks to the agents of change in the LGBTQ+ community, our understanding of the fluidity of gender has profoundly evolved over the past few years—but the work is far from over. In this month's Connections Magazine article, Sharon Papo discusses how the Diversity Center's programs assist many transgender and gender questioning individuals in the community.


You can read the full article by clicking here


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Love Wins. #Equality

After decades of hard work and activism, marriage equality is now the law of the land for our nation. This decision is just one small step forward on the long road to justice.  Sharon Papo, Executive Director of the Diversity Center, shares her opinions on a few of the many areas where full equality remains negated today. 

Read the full article by clicking here

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OUTSpoken: Come Out for Youth

What are some challenges LGBTQ+ Youth face in today's world of post marriage equality? Sharon Papo, Executive Director of the Diversity Center, answers that question in her Connections Magazine article. 

Click here to read the full article



A New Year, a New Pride

After 41 years of similar shape and direction, the  Santa Cruz Pride Committee is taking a leap in revamping the celebration. Read the Santa Cruz Sentinel's Interview with Pride organizer, Dina Izzo, online by clicking here.



Marriage Tipping Point

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, will the LGBTQ+ community finally gain full equality? Sharon Papo, Executive Director of The Diversity Center, discusses her thoughts on this question in her article "The Marriage Tipping Point."

Click here to read the full article.




New Diversity Center Logo

 Our new logo celebrates the Diversity Center's 25th anniversary. Look for the new look on all Diversity Center documents in the coming months.

Our new logo celebrates the Diversity Center's 25th anniversary. Look for the new look on all Diversity Center documents in the coming months.

The new Diversity Center logo has been chosen! Look for it on all Diversity Center documents in the coming months.

We would like to thank all of the community members who gave their feedback through community surveys about the logo design.  

We also want to thank the board for their review, and the Design Advisory Group:

  • Tobin Keller:  Program Co-Chair, Studio Arts Program. Cabrillo College
  • David Kerr:  San Francisco-based online advertising/web designer. Recipient of numerous interactive media awards, including several Web Awards.
  • Myke Reilly:  San Francisco-based visual artist and electronic media designer
  • Rose Sellery:  Art Gallery Program Coordinator, Cabrillo College. Co-founder of the annual Santa Cruz Fashion Art runway show
  • Mike Tossy:  Database and process engineering expert; recently retired from eBay. Known locally for his travel and nature photography. 

We hope this new logo will honor the Diversity Center's 25th anniversary - all of those who have built this community organization, and all of those who are still to come