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California’s Youngest, Openly Gay Elected Official
by Philip Mayard
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You might not even notice Evan Low walking down the streets of Campbell, California, a suburban community of 40,000 in the heart of Silicon Valley, where Asian-Americans are the second-most populous demographic. Home to high-tech megaliths eBay and Netflix, Campbell is also one of the youngest cities in the Bay Area—the average age of residents is about 35.

Evan Low, however, is no ordinary suburbanite. Low, 23, made history last year when he became the first Chinese-American, openly gay, and youngest person to be elected to Campbell’s city council. Having earned endorsements from such political heavy-hitters as U.S. Congressman Mike Honda and California Assemblyman (and gay politico) Mark Leno (not to mention a throng of local and state officials) Low won one of the three open spots in the November 2006 election, after narrowly losing his first campaign two years ago.

Community service is in Low’s blood. He traces his roots back to Robert Locke, the first police chief of Campbell, while his father Dr. Arthur Low, an eye doctor who worked and volunteered in the community for over 25 years, was Campbell’s Citizen of the Year and president of the Chamber of Commerce.

During Evan’s teens and early 20’s, while his peers worried about prom dates, keg parties, or figuring out ways to sneak into San Francisco’s gay clubs, Evan was volunteering in the community. He served on the County Commission on Senior Care, as Director of Government and Public Affairs for the Volunteer Center of Silicon Valley, as an instructor at De Anza Community College, as Treasurer of the local Kiwanis Club, on the Campbell Chamber of Commerce, and on the board of directors for the city’s museum, as well as numerous other affiliations.

Among his many awards, Low received the Asian-American Hero Award for Santa Clara County, and, on June 5, 2006, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom honored Evan (months before he was elected to public office) with a proclamation, naming the day “Evan Low Day” in the city and county of San Francisco for his leadership in the greater community, an endorsement that raised Low’s visibility throughout the Bay Area.

For such a non-traditional candidate, Low ran for office on a surprisingly traditional platform: promising to revitalize downtown Campbell; to revamp the city’s Web site; to work with the local school district to support higher teacher salaries and to secure funding for after-school and extracurricular programs; and to promote public safety and traffic control through street improvements and additional bike lanes.

Since his election, he has been working to improve the city’s library, which he says is “one of the most antiquated in the state, and is not easily accessible to many families, because it is closed on Sundays and Mondays.”

He is also focused on a problem that plagues the entire Bay Area: an increasing lack of affordable housing. He says, “We must address skyrocketing housing costs that continue to displace low and moderate-income people. I support zoning plans, which include an increased amount of affordable housing. I will also work to ensure that basic repairs are made to buildings in disrepair.”

Perhaps the most important issue that Low plans to address during his tenure is domestic violence, which, over the last 15 years, has increased at an alarming rate in this seemingly peaceful suburb of San Jose. According to Low, since 1993, the number of Emergency Protective Restraining Orders has increased seven fold in Santa Clara County, while the City of Campbell itself had more calls related to domestic violence than any other city in the county. Low says, “We can and should be a leader in eliminating violence against women. My approach focuses on two main goals: effectively dealing with domestic violence where it already exists, and furthering a culture of respect for women that condemns such mistreatment. We should work with our local police, county social services agency, and various community-based organizations to reduce domestic violence in our city.”

As a young, gay Asian-American male, Low clearly faced many challenges in terms of voter perception in his bid to become a city councilman in Campbell. Although he says he “got a sense of a ‘whisper campaign’ against me being gay, which was spread to conservative voters,” Low states emphatically that it was his age that was the greatest roadblock to an election night triumph. Low says, “I did receive hate mail stating that ‘We don’t want gays in our communities’ or ‘We want American interests, not Chinese interests.’ That was particularly puzzling to me to see these types of comments, given that I am a fifth-generation Californian, more native to this country than many of my fellow Council members. However, out of the three challenges, youth was the greatest.”

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Your story inspire me! As a queer Chinese activist, I agree with you on continued civic engagement. I'll be doing a program in Jan with my friend on gay/lesbian Chinese his/herstory. You're one of the many people we will mention in the history time-line
- I Li Hsiao , Chicago, IL., USA

Evan, you're the role model for young american, especially gay teen. hope you'll also focus more on gay rights. Thank you for your contributions and we love u.
- Zack , fullerton, california, USA

LI: you should follow Evan Low's example and come out of the closet. It's never easy, but it's easier than it was when I came out over 30 years ago. Pick one person you trust and tell them first. Believe me, you'll sleep better. Good luck.
- Paul , New York City

young and gay, being a mayor in a city, it is impossible in China, but you did it. congradulations and keep working!
- Frank Lin , Huizhou, China

Mr. Low, I'd first like to congratulate you being elected as the Mayor of Campbell. Not only you're the pride of us Am-Chinese community, but your openly gay orientation also impressed me deeply; because I'm one too, but afraid to walk out of the closet.
- LI , Milpitas, Ca. USA

Great man! I am proud of him! A 26-year-old guy was selected as mayor. But could he bring us any help(for example: houseing-well,education,community activites)? Here more and more people have an eye on something he have promied for citizens.
- jane , califonia

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