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Group nixed from San Mateo Pride gets booth

by Alex Madison

Members of Outpost had a booth at last year's San Mateo Pride festival under the name RAC. Photo: Courtesy Travis Woodmansee
Members of Outpost had a booth at last year's San Mateo Pride festival under the name RAC. Photo: Courtesy Travis Woodmansee   

They were out, now they're in.

Members of a San Mateo LGBT social group called Outpost, who were initially rejected from having a booth at the upcoming San Mateo Pride Celebration because of an "affiliation with alcohol," were given a reprieve this week and will be allowed to be at the festival.

After the Bay Area Reporter contacted officials from the San Mateo County Health System, the umbrella agency that oversees the festival, Outpost will have a booth.
Pride officials blamed the situation on a "misunderstanding."

To Dana Johnson and Regina Moreno, co-chairs of the San Mateo Initiative, which organizes the Pride festival, Outpost's weekly meeting place at Steelhead Brewing Company, a restaurant and brewery in Burlingame that serves alcohol, was enough to disqualify the social group from having a booth.

Since its inception in 2012, San Mateo Pride has been overseen by San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services. It promotes the Pride festival as being a "sober space" and does not allow organizations affiliated with or that promote alcohol or drugs to be involved in the festival.

"I apologize, however, we are not going to be able to provide your organization with a booth due to your meeting location being in a bar, the bar affiliates with alcohol," Johnson wrote in an email to Travis Woodmansee, a Peninsula psychotherapist and organizer of Outpost.

To Woodmansee, the group's meeting place at a restaurant that happens to serve beer - and yes, some members order alcohol at the group's meet-ups - does not mean it promotes alcohol and should have been allowed a booth from the start.

"Yes, some members choose to drink, but that doesn't mean our group is associated with alcohol," Woodmansee, a gay man, told the B.A.R. in a recent interview. "No one is saying we want to drink alcohol at the [Pride] event. Everyone in our group complied with it being a sober event."

Outpost, which has more than 300 members, had a booth last year at the Pride festival under the name "RAC" and had no problems. The only thing that's changed about the group since last year is its meeting location, which actually went from a bar to a restaurant that serves alcohol.

When Woodmansee submitted Outpost's booth application this year and received the rejection email from Johnson, he thought it was a mistake. He explained in an email to Johnson that the group was not involved with alcohol or drugs and ensured the acceptance and the comfort of its sober members.

But after more email correspondence between Woodmansee and Johnson, it was a no-go; Outpost would not be allowed a booth.

Woodmansee questioned the ambiguity by which the Pride co-chairs were choosing who was in and who was out.

"It just doesn't seem right," he said. "Basically they are saying we can't have a presence in this event because of that so-called association with alcohol. It seems like discrimination to me."

When the B.A.R. initially reached out to the San Mateo County Health System and asked why Outpost was rejected, its communication specialist, Preston Merchant, said in an email: "It's Health System policy that events must be drug- and alcohol-free, so any group that wished to serve or promote alcohol or other drugs at the event would not be allowed to participate."

Outpost, just like last year, did not intend on consuming or promoting alcohol at the Pride festival. Instead, it would promote its increasingly growing social group that gives queer people the chance to socialize and meet others from the community.

After some digging on the part of Merchant, however, and reaching out to the co-chairs, Outpost was approved for a booth a few days later.

The behavioral health division sent a statement to Woodmansee that stated, "On behalf of San Mateo County Health System, we have re-reviewed the application of Outpost's participation at the June 16, 2018 Pride Celebration in San Mateo County and found their work is in line with our mission. We have approved Outpost's participation and apologize for the misunderstanding and delay in approving their participation."

Johnson, an African-American nonbinary person, who, in an initial interview with the B.A.R. would not confirm if Outpost had been rejected, said they were "excited" to have Outpost as a part of the Pride festival now.

"There was a misunderstanding and miscommunication," Johnson said in a phone interview with the B.A.R., which included Merchant on the line. "After doing more research, we realized the organization does not promote alcohol, it just happened to be their location."

When asked if they thought Outpost would promote alcohol at the event, Johnson replied, "no," and said its meeting location was at the root of the "miscommunication."

Woodmansee, who was initially angry about Outpost's rejection and even considered boycotting the event, said he was glad to hear the news.

"We are happy," he said. "This is important to us. Our mission is to build community and we felt like this was tearing the community apart. We are feeling relieved and happy that it will be a more inclusive celebration. That's what we envisioned it to be originally."

Richard An, a gay man and the original founder of Outpost, retired from the position after having children, but recently helped organize Prism, a weekly gay bar night held at Qube Bar & Grill in San Mateo. An inquired about applying for a booth in early May and was also denied by Johnson via email. An did not pursue the denial to apply, he said, because the event was being promoted as a "gay bar night," but said he would still like a booth.

"San Mateo Pride is a great way to reach the LGBT-plus community here on the Peninsula because people are at Pride to have fun and discover more ways to engage," An wrote in an email to the B.A.R. "Prism is the Peninsula's new gay bar and dance floor and we would love to get the word out."

The San Mateo County Health System has yet to comment on the denial of Prism's booth application.

Pride coming up
The theme of the sixth annual San Mateo Pride Celebration is "Celebrate. Resist. Unite." There will be about 40 booths from community-based organizations, 10 vendors, food trucks, live music, and more.

"It's a place to celebrate, but also to resist the transphobia, biphobia, and homophobia that exists," said co-chair Moreno, a Chicano lesbian.

Last year's festival welcomed between 700 and 800 people, a number the co-chairs would like to see increase. The free, family-friendly festival will kick off with a flag raising ceremony in the center of San Mateo Central Park, where it's located. Organizers, volunteers, and representatives from San Mateo Parks and Recreation will raise a rainbow and American flag to commence the celebration.

Entertainment includes Sistahs of the Drum, a West-African inspired rhythm, song, and dance group from Oakland; DJ Lady Char from Sacramento; and Aima the Dreamer, a freestyle rap vocalist.

The celebration, Merchant said, is a health- and wellness-based event. The festival will include booths that promote healthy living and resources for addiction and mental health. Booths include, Edgewood Center for Children and Families, Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse, and initiatives overseen by the SMCHS including the Spirituality and Chinese Health Initiatives.

Celebrating its one-year anniversary on June 1, the San Mateo Pride Center will also have a booth.

The San Mateo Pride Celebration will take place Saturday, June 16, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at San Mateo Central Park, 50 East 5th Street. For more information, contact Johnson or Moreno at (650) 312-5352 or email Johnson at theractivist@gmail.com.

Contact the reporter at a.madison@ebar.com.

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