Generosity in Action

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage Equality & then comes "Clamoring" FOR ALL

Margaret Leonard and Clare Sheils have been together for 37 years and married to each other at least three times. They have a whole section on their wall for marriage certificates. “We got married every time it became legal,” explains Margaret. In between weddings, Clare and Margaret became backbones in the local movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) rights.

Legal Support & Visibility

In the 80s and 90s, as the queer community became more visible through the movement for gay liberation, Clare and Margaret saw a major void in Santa Cruz County for LGBTQ legal support.

“Couples wanted to buy houses together, raise their families, and live full and open lives even if legal marriage wasn’t yet an option,” says Clare. “Since Margaret was a lawyer, she started holding free legal seminars on how to navigate wills, trusts, and second-parent adoptions for couples where only one person was the biological parent.”

They were early supporters of “GLIB” — Gays and Lesbians in Business –- a mini chamber of commerce to help connect the queer business community which also included an LGBTQ+ business directory. Margaret, who was raised in Santa Cruz said, “It was all about visibility. This has become a progressive community with gay visibility. But when I was growing up and before the university, it was a small sleepy town.”

Clare (on far left) and Margaret (in the white hat) and group of fellow clam chowder cooking activists. After convincing the event organizers to not shut them down for being "too political," the group won "most creative."

"Clamoring" for Equality

The passage of Proposition 8 in 2008 was a blow to the movement. The legislation added a new section to the state Constitution which mandated that "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

Clare and Margaret turned Prop 8 into a rallying cry. They wrote in a Santa Cruz Sentinel guest commentary, “We all recognize that Prop. 8 created a legal setback. However, it did not alter reality … our lives … our love … and, it cannot change the right for us to define our relationships and families in the most accurate fashion.”

Their activism got creative: a booth at the Annual Clam Chowder Cook-off at the Boardwalk touted their theme, “Clamoring For Equality”, complete with t-shirts that had clams in bridal wear. During the annual Santa Cruz holiday boat parade, friends and families gathered to design a 'marriage equality’ theme on a friend’s boat.

Clare and Margaret with other community leaders and foundation staff at the Pride parade 2006.

Generosity & Service

For Clare and Margaret, political action goes hand in hand with community service and generosity. They’ve both been longtime supporters of The Diversity Center of Santa Cruz County, an LGBT community center, by engaging in fundraising and outreach.

Clare also served as a member of the board and board president of BAYMEC (Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee) a political action committee representing Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, and Monterey counties. Margaret served on the boards of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Senior Legal Services, Santa Cruz Trial Lawyers, and at the Community Foundation. “It made sense,” she says, “when you are raised in a socially conscience family, it’s what you do.”

Margaret’s mother, Anne, was, in fact, one of the many moving forces in establishing the Community Foundation after the devastating floods of 1982. At the time, people were searching for a central hub for donations—one that would support the long-term recovery efforts. The Community Foundation was formed to meet that need.

Clare and Margaret were also instrumental in the success of the Diversity Partnership Fund at the Community Foundation. Launched in 1997, it was one of the first community foundation-based social justice grant-making and leadership programs for LGBTQ+ people. In 2005, a campaign was launched to build a permanent endowment to advance the goals of the partnership. Now a permanently endowed fund, thanks in large part to Clare and Margaret’s efforts, the fund has reached the $1 million mark. More than $718,000 grants have been awarded since 1997, including $40,000 in 2022.

“We did quite a bit of fundraising,” says Margaret. “It got to the point where people would see me coming down the street and run in the other direction. They knew I was going to ask for a donation,” she quips.

Margaret & Clare were among the over 300 people in 2021 that celebrated the launch of Rise Together, the Community Foundation's racial equity initiative.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

In the early 2000s, the more active and involved Clare and Margaret became in the LGBTQ+ rights movement, they realized that the gay movement overall was very white-centric. “We left a lot of people behind,” says Clare. “Thankfully, local communities of color let us know and we learned a lot, and continue to learn. And, thankfully, our Diversity Center and other local community organizations reached out and initiated dialogue with our communities of color.”

During her work with BAYMEC and the Diversity Center, Clare saw the power of building alliances. “BAYMEC and the Diversity Center built coalitions with many different groups (political, social, business, law, law enforcement, education). It’s so important to work together toward a common goal. Equality/Equity. A rising tide lifts all boats.”

When they learned about Rise Together, the Community Foundation’s initiative to work with local leaders of color to advance racial equity in Santa Cruz County, they loved the idea. “Again, it’s really important that leaders are empowered to make the decisions they know will work best for their community,” says Clare.

Clare and Margaret now give regularly to the Rise Together Fund for Racial Equity through their donor-advised fund. “The whole coalition is very inspiring. It’s exciting to be part of it.”

Margaret and Clare in 2022.

Fueling the Next Generation

Now retired, Clare and Margaret are doing a lot of traveling, spending time with family, and hoping the younger generation will step up and serve on boards, volunteer, get engaged.

“We’re here cheering you on and to offer any advice if you want it,” says Margaret.

But they still want to know what’s going on in the community and how to contribute. Both Clare and Margaret find the Community Foundation a valuable resource to stay informed. Margaret says “It’s all there at the Foundation. You want to know more about organizations working on homelessness? Boom! There’s an event. Or organizations working for racial equity? Hey, there’s Rise Together! It’s one stop shopping. I trust the Community Foundation and its outstanding leadership.”

Remembering her mom’s own activism in Santa Cruz, Margaret says she can’t help thinking about what Santa Cruz will look like 100 years from now and how she can help future generations create a community to be proud of.

Clare says, “The Community Foundation is a wonderful central coordinated resource for our community, now and in the future.”

Cover Photo: Margaret & Clare were honored as Grand Marshalls of the 2006 Santa Cruz Pride Parade for their decades of activism for LGBTQ+ rights.

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