New Russian River Pride gets some star power

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday September 20, 2023
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A giant rainbow flag is carried during a previous Pride parade in Sonoma County. Photo: From<br><br>
A giant rainbow flag is carried during a previous Pride parade in Sonoma County. Photo: From

A new ad hoc committee is planning a rebirth of Pride in the LGBTQ-friendly North Bay town of Guerneville in October and those who want to participate in the parade need to sign up soon, one of the organizers said.

Cleve Jones, a longtime gay activist who co-founded the AIDS Memorial Quilt and once worked for the gay late supervisor Harvey Milk, lives in Guerneville nowadays. He told the Bay Area Reporter that the Russian River Pride parade will start at noon Sunday, October 15, along First Street at Church Street. Marchers will make their way to Mill Street, then turn on River Road, proceeding to Armstrong Woods Road.

"Then," Jones explained, "everyone's going to go to Johnson's Beach parking lot for a dance on the beach hosted by Juanita MORE!"

There will also be a festival, the website stated.

MORE! said she's happy to be participating.

"The town has long been an LGBTQ+ playground for us West Coasters," MORE! told the B.A.R. "Cleve's energy is infectious, along with his excitement to make this happen. I look forward to participating in this exciting event and bringing some House of MORE! energy to the weekend."

The tea dance ends at 5 p.m.; there's no entry fee and it's open to people of all ages.

The pride weekend gets underway with various activities Friday, October 13, and those continue on Saturday, October 14, according to the website.

Changes led to new event

Jones told the B.A.R. that Sonoma County Pride's 2018 decision to move from Guerneville to Santa Rosa, the county seat, for its annual parade and festival the first Saturday in June left some people in the LGBTQ hamlet with "some hard feelings."

"Some experienced hurt about their parade being taken away," Jones said.

In the aftermath of Sonoma County Pride's move, there have been efforts to hold Russian River Pride, though the 2018 parade ended up being canceled, as the B.A.R. reported at the time.

Christopher Kren-Mora, a gay man who's president of Sonoma County Pride, said there was a separate Russian River Pride event in 2019, but since then Guerneville was rocked not just by the COVID pandemic but by destructive floods earlier this year.

"That made it difficult for them to continue," Kren-Mora said.

Jones said that when he and others heard that some Pride celebrations were canceled in Florida due to laws targeting drag performers signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, now a Republican presidential aspirant, they realized that "this is the time to reinvigorate" Pride in west Sonoma County.

An ad hoc committee formed under the auspices of the Russian River Alliance, on whose website contingents can register for the parade and people can volunteer. Those who want to march in the parade have until Friday, September 29, to sign up, organizers said.

Jones said that the alliance will be one of five groups that will benefit from money raised as part of Pride festivities. Jennifer Wertz, a lesbian who is the alliance's fund manager, said that while she moved up to Guerneville for a slower pace of life, there was just too much need to be ignored.

Jones stated September 19 that $75,000 has come in already — $25,000 "from two fundraising parties" and $50,000 from sponsors including Gilead, the California Teachers Association, and UNITE Here, the union where Jones works. Of the money that's come in, $40,000 will be used for the production of the event, including the stage, sound, permits, and insurance, Jones stated.

The alliance has distributed funds for years. What started as giving away $1,000 in gift cards in 2019 became $160,000 disbursed in disaster relief efforts "before other organizations come in and do the heavy lifting," Wertz said.

Wertz stated that the gift cards go to individuals "for immediate needs" and "emergency assistance until the larger nonprofits are able to get set up." These have included evacuees, and those whose jobs have "suddenly shut down," she continued.

Wertz added she's "thrilled" both that the alliance is serving as the fiscal sponsor, and that it may be getting some money from donations.

"We rely on small, private donations and other organizations that support us. We have a small budget but are financially efficient," she said. "I do this as a volunteer and have been the whole time."

Jones also mentioned the Sonoma County Public Library branch in Guerneville as a beneficiary. Libraries are "really, really important for us LGBTQ people," Jones explained, as books help people learn about what it means to be a queer person.

Librarian Stuart Wilkinson and branch manager Mel McCallum expressed their thanks.

"We are honored to be a financial beneficiary of the event and will use the funds to support our LGBTQIA+ community," they jointly stated. "Our participation in this year's Pride is especially important given the rising hostility toward inclusive libraries and the freedom to read.

"The Sonoma County Library celebrates LGBTQIA+ Pride year-round. We launched the Here & Queer Sonoma County project to collect, archive, and amplify the histories of Sonoma County's LGBTQ+ communities," Wilkinson and McCallum added. "Our branch collaborates with the Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to provide story times, hosts a monthly LGBTQIA+ book club, and recently attended the first-ever Occidental Pride."

Occidental is a small community in Sonoma County south of Guerneville.

Jones also mentioned Food for Thought, a food bank that helps those with serious medical conditions, including HIV/AIDS, in the county; the Guerneville Youth Center; and Watch Duty, a wildfire detection service; as rounding out the beneficiaries. None replied to a request for comment.

Kren-Mora said Sonoma County Pride is helping out.

"Cleve reached out to us to ask for our help so our nonprofit is helping him with contacts," Kren-Mora said. "Sonoma County is full of pride — the more, the merrier. That said, our Pride is made up of six people who are full time volunteers. What we can do, we do."

Other events

Other events will include a reprise of the Flag in the Map exhibit, and though a time is to be determined, it will be at 16215 Main Street and sponsored by Oli Gallery and the Gilbert Baker Foundation. (The exhibit will be shown the prior weekend, October 6, in Napa, as the B.A.R. previously reported.)

An opening reception for the exhibit will be sponsored by the Equality Vines Tasting Room at the same address Friday, October 13, though a time is to be determined.

An Honoring Our Elders Brunch will take place Saturday, October 14, 10:30 a.m., at 15010 Armstrong Woods Road, sponsored by West County Community Services. (A spokesperson told the B.A.R. that the details haven't been "ironed out" yet.)

A Women's Weekend Pop-up Pool Party will take place Saturday, October 14, from noon to 5 p.m. at the R3 Hotel at 16390 Fourth Street. Admission is for those 21 and over and costs $25. R3 did not return a request for comment for this report as of press time.

A Clean and Sober Lounge will take place Saturday, October 14, from 1 to 5 p.m. outside of the Style Bar hair salon 16350 Third Street.

A display of the panels from the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be at the Russian River Health and Wellness Center at 16387 First Street on Saturday, October 14. There will be no entrance fee, as well as an all-ages health fair. Hours and further details are still to be determined.

People can book a campsite, cabin, or tiny house as part of Rainbow Camp at Johnson's Beach for the whole weekend. The promo code JBPRIDE23 will give a 25% discount on the reservation.

The Monte Rio Theater at 20396 Bohemian Highway will be hosting films all weekend: "Milk" October 13 at 7 p.m., "Moonlight" October 14 at 7 p.m., and "But I'm a Cheerleader" October 15 at 5 p.m. Tickets are $18 at the door, $15 if purchased beforehand. Active-duty military pay $12 at the door, and $10 beforehand. All films are rated R. The theater did not return a request for comment as of press time.

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