by Dot Cannon
“Festive” would have been an understatement.
San Gabriel Valley Pride‘s sixteenth Pride Festival, Saturday, October 14th in Pasadena’s Central Park, served up a community-welcoming showcase of art, authors, entertainment and information.
Not to mention classic cars!
Among Pride festivals, San Gabriel Valley Pride is unique. Not only is admission free, but the festival’s emphasis is on family-friendly activities and community. And everyone is welcome.
A group of four volunteers organized nonprofit San Gabriel Valley Pride in 2001. At the time, emails SGV Pride’s current treasurer, Chris Ramirez, those four volunteers–Chris, Aaron Saenz, Margo Strik and Theresa Quin–were all involved to some degree with Catalyst. At that time, Catalyst was the organization producing Pasadena Pride.
However, Chris says, Catalyst had decided to stop producing their event in 2000. So Chris, Aaron, Margo and Theresa planned something new.
Chris e-mails, “As we had no money, we decided to just hold a no-host community picnic in the park in 2001.” Margo designed the new logo for San Gabriel Valley Pride.
But before the scheduled event date, 9/11 happened. The organizers were unsure whether to go ahead with the picnic, or not.
So, as current SGV Pride Vice-President Aaron Saenz told us in an earlier interview, they asked the community for their input. And the general consensus was that people wanted to experience something positive.
“I believe there were about 50 people in the park that day,” Chris says. “By the next year, we had more support.”
That following year, an article in a community publication led to donations for the fledgling organization. Donors contributed around $500, Chris continues, and the event launched in earnest. Meanwhile, a pro-bono attorney helped San Gabriel Valley Pride secure nonprofit status.
Their mission, as stated on their website, is “educating and raising awareness of the community at large about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender culture, and to instill a sense of pride and respect among members of the LGBT community.”
Sixteen years later, San Gabriel Valley Pride continues to deliver that positive message. Each year, through their festival, they do it a little differently.
As with any special event, part of the fun is seeing the preparations.
With San Gabriel Valley Pride XVI set to start at 11, a lot of setup had already happened by 9:30 on Saturday morning.
Now, volunteers were adding the finishing touches to the Authors’ Lounge area, performance stage, exhibits–and, of course, the classic car show!
Once 11:00 arrived, the exhibits were open–and San Gabriel Valley Pride XVI was in progress.
In the exhibit area was a table for Camp Brave Trails. This is a leadership summer camp for LGBTQ youth ages 12-20.
Counselor Thomas Kent explained that the program includes having the young attendees hear speeches from thought leaders including former President Barack Obama. Then, he said, the young attendees plan what they would like to accomplish in their lives–and share their stories.
“As much progress as we made, it’s just really incredible to see (that) in these kids,” Thomas said. “(Camp is) just a safe space for these kids that probably haven’t had that (before).”
Further along in the exhibits were some previous favorites, back to share information.
“Where’s your cape?” we asked real-life “superhero” Chris Clarkin, at the Get Prep L.A. table.
OK–so Chris didn’t have a cape this year, unlike when he appeared at SGV Pride in 2016. But he was still in the business of saving lives, by giving out condoms and resources.
(Get Prep L.A. is a program run by the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department. In addition to providing ways to prevent HIV, their website offers information on emergency medication to prevent HIV after exposure.)
Nearby, Pasadena PFLAG was offering buttons, literature and resources to parents, friends, and families of lesbians and gays–in both English and Spanish.
And Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Lab was wowing visitors with posters, stickers and all kinds of free publications on current space missions.
Faith and involvement
Some local churches were onsite, as well, to welcome new members.
Altadena Community Church’s website tells visitors that they were one of the first churches in Southern California to officially welcome members of all sexual orientations.
Meanwhile, the SoCalLutherans website has a list of LGBTQ-welcoming congregations in the Southern California area.
And visitors were invited to get involved.
In the exhibits area was Abdullah Hall, who explained that the Human Rights Campaign is the nation’s largest LGBTQ organization. One of their goals, Abdullah said, is to gain civil rights for all members of the LGBTQ community with legislation based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Here’s a link to their blog and information on how to get involved and support them on current issues.)
Classic cars and imagination
After last year’s absence, Great Autos of Yesteryear, the West Coast’s largest gay and lesbian car club, had returned. The car show was on!
Later that afternoon, judges would award prizes in a number of categories. Visitors were voting for the “People’s Choice” winner from among these classic beauties. (And the choice wasn’t an easy one!)
Great Autos Director Kyle Bushnell said his organization has more than 900 members. Between them, they own more than 2,000 classic cars.
Kyle said members are mostly based in California, although some of their auto enthusiasts come from Seattle, Las Vegas and Texas. And Great Autos welcomes both gay and straight auto aficionados, as new members.
Next to the classic cars was a unique art display.
Artist Steven Erler, of Auto-Visuals Classic Car Art, explained that he starts his digital art with one of the many photographs he’s taken, of classic cars. Then, he digitally enhances the picture. He can either create a “car that never was”, such as the 1954 Packard that appears on his website–or customize a picture for a specific client.
Steven told us that one of his clients had wanted his mom in a classic-car picture. Steven started with the photograph he’s holding. Then, he digitally added a city-street backdrop behind the classic car. From an old photograph of the client’s mother, he added her head on a model’s body, dressed in elegant 1930s attire.
The result? Stylish Mom could give any film star of the day a run for her money with this particular work–and the client has a unique keepsake. (We also loved Steven’s representation of Elizabeth Taylor, in her heyday, seated in a 1960s vintage car in which she very well might have ridden!)
Look for Steven to publish a book, containing his digital art, in the future. We’ll keep you posted when it’s available!
Love and creativity
At San Gabriel Valley Pride, a centerpiece is often Big Draw L.A. This is a Southern California-wide, annual event in which people gather to create art. (And, in fact, Big Draw L.A. is one of numerous worldwide drawing events throughout October.)
Visitors were using their talents to create messages of love and support.
Another regular feature of San Gabriel Valley’s Pride Festival–which manages to be different every year? The live-entertainment stage.
Among the many gifted musicians we heard was Sayed Sabrina, who belted out some amazing, bluesy-sounding rock!
Authors, storytelling and dialogues
At the same time, the Author’s Forum was hosting small discussion groups with a number of LGBT authors.
And we were thrilled and honored to be asked to be a part of the program.
We had the pleasure of interviewing NASA Realtime Flight Operations Engineer David Doody, who is the author of three books. He is also the lead author on NASA’s free-to-the-public “Basics of Space Flight” (here’s the link!).
Audio and video are forthcoming, but one of our many favorite moments was Dave’s reply to a question about the class he teaches, at Pasadena’s ArtCenter College of Design.
So, why a science class, at an art college?
Dave explained that when filmmakers, for example, represent space flight–they’re often getting it wrong! We won’t do a spoiler here, but let’s just say that a very popular movie, which many of us loved, shows a spacecraft moving in a way that would be impossible, in real life.
(Dave would certainly know. His thirty years of working at NASA-JPL have included serving as the lead engineer on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn!)
Another highlight of the festival, later that afternoon, was a small, intimate discussion group with author C.B. Lee. She read from all three of her young-adult novels: Seven Tears at High Tide, Not Your Sidekick and Not Your Villain.
And we had the opportunity to interview her, as well.
C.B. said that, as a bisexual Asian teenager, she loved to read but couldn’t find books featuring bisexual protagonists who “would go on to have happy endings”.
“To have characters on the page that look like me, that felt like me…that was important to me,” she said. “I write the books I wanted to read as a teen.”
Asked what she would say to bisexual teens in that situation today, C.B. replied, “I think I would say, ‘you’re important, and your story’s important. I would say to any teenager who doesn’t know who you are yet, that you’ll figure it out, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes…And you are brave, and you are strong, and…there are so many wonderful resources out there. You can find who you are.”
The day had sped by, and was almost over.
A new feature at the Author’s Forum
A very enjoyable new feature concluded San Gabriel Valley Pride Festival 2017. SGV Pride billed the event as “A Reading and Conversation with Josh Gerschick and Bonnie S. Kaplan, Queer Jews”.
Poet Bonnie S. Kaplan and playwright Josh Gerschick each read from their works.
“I think it’s…important to talk a little bit about where we are, and also, through this reading, where we’ve come from,” Josh said. He began with an excerpt from his first book, Gay Old Girls: an interview he’d done with Jane Stevenson, who had had both a husband and a wife in 1950s San Francisco.
Bonnie, who is an award-winning teacher of adults in California’s Parolee Education Program, shared both selections from her published works, and some of her unpublished poems.
“It just so happens that I write about suburbia a lot,” she said. She then read several of her unpublished works, starting with one about her recollections of growing up in the San Fernando Valley.
Josh followed with selections from a play he had written, “Dear ONE’. ONE magazine, he explained, was one of the first publications for the LGBT community. It had started in Los Angeles.
“It went out across the country in a plain manila envelope, to readers all over,” he said. “And most of the readers were from small towns and rural areas, who thought of themselves as being the only “one” in their community. Having no one else to talk to, they wrote to the magazine, and …talked about their lives.”
Selections Josh read, from the ONE archives, included a letter from a gay man who recognized his own worth and wanted to work for equal rights for himself and others in his community–in 1953. He also read one from a man who had decided, due to societal pressures, not to leave town to live with the man he loved.
After the readings, Bonnie and Josh engaged their listeners in a conversation.
“What’s the first (gay) novel everyone read?” Josh asked. A lively discussion of titles followed. (And all audience members were made to feel welcome. When one woman replied, “I’m straight,” Bonnie smiled and said, “That’s fine.”)
Other conversation topics included the historic oppression of members of the LGBT community, and the current climate for women, in dealing with sexual harassment.
At 6 p.m., the sun was going down. Volunteers were starting to gather up the recording equipment and pack the items on the display tables.
But the gathered audience at the Author’s Forum lingered. They didn’t seem to want to leave.
We don’t blame them a bit.