More than 120 people packed the Horticulture Center for a Cabrillo College board meeting in August.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Cabrillo College

Cabrillo College trustees say they were targets of homophobic, transphobic attacks amid name-change debate

Two Cabrillo College trustees say they experienced incidents of harassment because of their support for changing the name of the college. Adam Spickler says he was the subject of a transphobic petition. Steve Trujillo says he has been the target of homophobic emails, and that Watsonville Police Chief Jorge Zamora told him to carry pepper spray and had officers escort him home from dinner because of a tip that someone was following him.

Two members of Cabrillo College’s governing board say they’ve experienced homophobic and transphobic incidents as a result of their support for changing the name of the college.

During a Monday meeting where trustees voted 6-1 to delay more discussion on the name change until at least 2028, trustees Adam Spickler, a queer transgender man, and Steve Trujillo, a gay man, described being the targets of harassment because of their identities and their support for changing the name of the school.

Spickler said a petition circulating in the community by name-change opponents this summer criticized him for choosing the name Adam because of its religious connection, and said he must be racist because his last name includes the word “spick” — an extremely offensive term for Spanish-speaking Americans or someone from Latin American and other countries. The petition also said he should revoke his pronouns.

He said the goal of the petition wasn’t clear to him, nor was it clear if anyone had signed it.

“There was a transphobic petition sent around about me in progressive circles, saying that they were opposing my position on [the college’s name change]. ‘He decided to name himself Adam, isn’t that connected to some religious name? He should be canceled,’” said Spickler, recalling the petition’s message.

He told Lookout that prior to the name-change issue, he had never received homophobic or transphobic messages in his work with Cabrillo. Spickler emphasized that he didn’t share these incidents with the public Monday night to insert himself into the name-change issue, and said he didn’t report any of the recent emails to police but sent one or two of the messages to Cabrillo College President Matt Wetstein to keep a record of them.

“No political controversy is worth people having to endure threats or any kind of targeted communication,” said Wetstein. “That goes beyond the pale.”

Spickler and Wetstein both emphasized that if students, faculty or staff are concerned about any kind of harassment, they should contact the college’s Title IX office for support.

Trujillo, the lone trustee to vote against delaying the school’s name change, said that he’d received homophobic messages. He added that Watsonville Police Chief Jorge Zamora told him to carry pepper spray and had officers escort him home when he was out for dinner because there was a tip that someone was following him.

“I have incurred the wrath of homophobic people, supposedly progressive, throughout the community, for supporting [the name change],” said Trujillo. “I have been called everything — and I can’t repeat the words for you because they’re so filthy. I’ve also had my house broken into.”

Trujillo told Lookout that since his campaign for the college board in 2020 — in which he made his support for the name change part of his platform — he has received homophobic emails and social media comments and his property has been vandalized.

Trujillo said he believes at least one individual who lives in his neighborhood is responsible for the vandalism, break-ins and some of the homophobic messages and said he’s reported the incidents to the Watsonville Police Department. He said he’s trying to prove it’s the individual by getting an image of the person while he’s inside his home so the police can file charges.

He added that he’s received homophobic messages from others in emails and online.

“This has been going on for some time. And yeah, I’m afraid it’s pretty much the same group of people. These are homophobic people. These are transphobic people — they go after Adam, they go after me,” he said. “The fact [is] the name change gave them another reason to hate on us.”

Trujillo said he believes a similar attack has taken the form of an anonymous complaint filed against him with the Cabrillo College governing board.

During Monday’s meeting, the board voted to create a committee to “determine whether social media posts made by a Board member violate any Cabrillo Community College District’s Board policies and procedures.”

Trujillo identified himself as the board member who was the subject of the complaint, saying that someone had alleged he had made misogynistic comments on social media. “I don’t know anything about it,” he told Lookout on Thursday. “I am told that supposedly, I made a comment on Facebook that was misogynist.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the creation of the committee and board chair Spickler appointed trustees Martha Vega and Rachael Spencer to serve on the committee. Trujillo told the meeting he wanted the chance to establish his innocence.

“When you make controversial statements, and you are a board member, there is a possibility that there are people in the community who are going to take issue with you and create artificial charges against you,” Trujillo said at the meeting. “And I do believe that it’s important that if there is a committee, that a person can actually establish the fact that they’re innocent of any charges in terms of well, misogyny or anything else in order so that your name can be cleared.”

In an interview after the meeting on Wednesday, Spickler said he felt these incidents show how some people in the community will go to extreme lengths to stop the name change. He added that he supported delaying the renaming because it would give the community time to focus on getting to a place where people feel they can engage with the issue positively.

“There’s a link to colonialism that the name of the college represents. It’s clear those folks aren’t seeing that,” he said “And if they’re not seeing that, and they’re also saying homophobic and transphobic things in communication, whether it’s to me or to other community members about me, that’s alarming.”

Spickler said he hoped to make several points including that with any social justice issue — like equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community — it takes time for the public to understand why change is necessary.

FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated with detail about the petition circulated by name-change opponents.

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