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Guest Opinion: Why we still need Pride

by Brian Rogers

Dykes on Bikes from Lake County led last year's Sonoma County Pride parade in Santa Rosa. Photo: Loren Hansen/Loren Hansen Photography
Dykes on Bikes from Lake County led last year's Sonoma County Pride parade in Santa Rosa. Photo: Loren Hansen/Loren Hansen Photography   

Spring is here! Finally our dreary winter will give way to a beautiful display of the natural beauty in Sonoma County. For lifelong LGBT activists like myself, the longer days of spring also mean Pride season is approaching. As vice president of Sonoma County Pride, that means shifting into high gear as we finalize preparations for our 32nd Pride weekend celebration, May 31-June 2, in Santa Rosa. Each year that means selecting a theme that resonates and relates to the time we live in and which says who we are (or want to be).

In 2017, for example, with the streets full of protesters over President Donald Trump, our theme was "Rise Up" and we added a rally that year. In 2018, beginning to recover from the horrendous firestorm the fall before, our hopeful theme was "Together We Rise."

Now, we find we live in a divided nation. Our social media obsession has placed us in our own private silos, virtual echo chambers of our own making. Fake news and meanness in public discourse have alienated many and led to a sharp spike in incidents of hate crimes. Eroding trust in our institutions can numb us and corrode our spirits if we let them. For 2019, we reject the negativity and join hands to bring back the LOVE.

In 1967, thousands of young people from around the country descended on the Bay Area for the Summer of Love. Our world changed forever that summer. In that same spirit and as an as antidote to hate, Sonoma County Pride has declared 2019 the "Year of Love."

In collaboration with community nonprofit partners the Year of Love will include a dozen events large and small focused on positive change and promoting the love for our fellow human beings.

The board of directors of Sonoma County Pride proudly invites our neighbors from the entire Bay Area to join us in beautiful Sonoma County as we celebrate the power of love. Join us as we come together to celebrate the goodness in the world through a weekend-long series of events that offer a wide range of options for your entertainment pleasure.

Events include two dance parties with entertainment, a talk by Jim Obergefell of marriage equality fame, an admission-free Pride parade and festival, an LGBT short film festival, a community youth and trans picnic, Pride pets in the park, a wine event hosted by GED magazine, and a Lagunitas Brewing Company taproom party with drag entertainment. On the main festival stage featured performers include Janice Robinson, Tatianna, Spencer Ludwig, Reyna, and DJ Jimmy Hits.

Join us as we turn Santa Rosa into one big gay party. Detailed information on each event is located on our website at www.sonomacountypride.org.

If you haven't visited Sonoma County or Santa Rosa in a while, you might be surprised how the countryside has healed and how charming the downtown has become. Our area is renowned for its food culture and downtown Santa Rosa is no exception. The reunification of Old Courthouse Square has yielded a walkable downtown with great restaurants, pubs, and (of course) wine and beer tasting options. The character of the area is charming, especially at night in the summer when the string lights are draped from trees.

"Stonewall to Sonoma, A Heritage of Love" is the theme for this year's parade, presented by Hansel Subaru for the second year. Sonoma County Pride dedicates our 2019 parade to the spirit of the Stonewall uprising. History was made on June 28, 1969 when a diverse group of mostly street kids took on the New York City police force in an inspiring display of bravery and resistance during one of their regular gay bar raids. Homosexuality was a criminal offense that short time ago.

The Stonewall uprising (or riots) sparked an ongoing resistance and inspired us. It gave us resolve to continue the fight, chipping away at injustice and learning to reject shame and embrace our true selves with Pride.

The first NYC Pride rally occurred one month after the Stonewall riots, when 500 people gathered for a "Gay Liberation" demonstration in Washington Square Park, followed by a candlelight vigil in Sheridan Square. In the years since, Pride celebrations have been held worldwide, in big cities and small towns. Many young men and women first found personal empowerment and self-acceptance attending their first Pride.

For those who remember the era before Stonewall, coming out was not an option. To survive, most lived double lives, concealing their shameful secret. In addition to criminalization and discrimination, physical violence was all too common. Until Stonewall, millions of LGBT people had never dared question the status quo. That act of disobedience set off a movement whose true legacy is still unfolding.

Stonewall was a transformative event for me as well. Sixteen years old and growing up in Texas, I knew from my earliest awareness that I was different from the other boys. I also understood without questioning that I must hide that difference or face certain humiliation and shame.

Stonewall caused an epiphany in me, learning that there were many other "different" kids out there and that together we could make change happen. There is a tribe for the "others" and that is my tribe. I resolved to fight for our right to exist and be happy, and I've done that ever since.

For the past 30 years I have volunteered and served on many boards; first in Las Vegas and now in Sonoma County. I am fortunate to work for the progressive and enlightened Graton Resort & Casino. It's a wonderful and inclusive place; the resort encourages my work for Sonoma County Pride. For the fifth year, Graton Resort & Casino is our entertainment presenting sponsor, allowing us to punch above our weight for booking great talent. (Graton Rancheria Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris is a gay man and the resort has given to the LGBT and wider communities over the years.)

Each year there are venues to secure, sponsors to find, permits to be filed, entertainers to hire, vendors to accommodate, a parade to stage, volunteers to recruit and train, meetings, meetings and more meetings. I have often been asked why we take on all that extra work. I always give the same answer: there's no way that I can't do it.

For our second year in our new venues, Sonoma County Pride is expanding the footprint of the parade and festival, adding more vendor space and a second community stage. Come recharge your spirit by gazing at the emerald green hills, consider your small place in the universe while surrounded by towering redwoods, and discover new wine tasting and dining experiences. Our Pride parade and festival have scaled to nicely match the setting; festive, but with a laid-back Sonoma County vibe.

Channel the positive collective energy and you'll find yourself refreshed. Sonoma County Pride has partnered with several local hotels, which are offering special rates to our Pride weekend guests. You can find those on our website, along with registration links.

Full details about all our events, transportation, parking, bicycle valet parking, and much more are available on our website and Sonoma County Pride Facebook page.

Hope to see you the first weekend in June.

Brian Rogers is Sonoma County Pride vice president, sponsors and logistics.

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