by Dot Cannon
San Gabriel Valley Pride‘s fifteenth Pride Festival, on Saturday, October 15th, was warm, sunny, and shining.
Oh–and the weather was nice, too.
San Gabriel Valley Pride is unique, in that their annual Pride festival is a family-friendly community celebration, with free admission. Every year since 2001, SGV Pride has welcomed everyone to join them for a festive Saturday filled with entertainment, art and resources.
Their 2016 edition, themed “XV on the Fifteenth”, held true to this tradition.
Just after 10:00, Pasadena’s Central Park was filled with activity. The festival would start at 11:00.
The day’s programs would feature intercultural music, live readings by LGBT authors, and pet adoptions. Exhibits would showcase various community services and resources.
Just after 11:00, State Senate Candidate Anthony Portantino stepped up to the mike in the entertainment area, to welcome everyone to the festival.
And the time had come, to explore.
First, we met Chris Clarkin. His cape may be for fun, but his mission is definitely saving lives.
Chris was representing Get Prep LA, and distributing condoms and literature on HIV prevention. Get Prep LA, a program by the L.A. County Department of Public Health, offers both condoms and information on a daily HIV prevention medication for high-risk patients.
Across the walkway, the Planned Parenthood booth was offering health-services information. Their literature included information on breast-cancer screenings, STD prevention and healthy relationships.
Meanwhile, CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking) was talking with attendees about some shocking facts. Human trafficking, both for sexual exploitation and forced labor, is very much a hidden reality in Southern California. CAST, founded in 1998, was the first organization in the U.S. dedicated to serving survivors of human trafficking, according to their website.
“Please call this hotline if (you’re aware of any suspicious activity,” requested exhibitors West Seegmiller and Stephanie Molen, proffering a card. (The hotline number: 1(888) 539-2373.)
At the Human Rights Campaign table, Bonnie Uphold had all kinds of literature on supporting equality. A favorite was the “Buying for Workplace Equality” publication (certain chocolate and coffee vendors scored 100%!). Bonnie says that HRC, which is the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, also has all this information available online.
And Pasadena PFLAG had made an important upgrade. Besides serving the parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays, organization secretary Betsy Hanger told us they’ve revamped to serve transgender individuals, as well. “We were seeing transgender kids (seven or eight, coming up and saying, ‘that isn’t me’),” she said.
Meanwhile, Pasadena Humane Society had some excellent candidates for new family members. No word yet on how many “forever homes” resulted from 2016 Pride, but past Festivals have resulted in numerous pet adoptions.
And a pug was giving kisses!
“That’s Lola,” explained Foothill Funeral and Cremation Service owner and operator Manny Godoy. “She’s our therapy dog.”
Manny said that Foothill is the only openly LGBT funeral and cremation service in the area. Family-owned by Manny, his husband Rocky and their daughters, Foothill is unique in that they conduct burials at sea, as well as the traditional scattering of ashes. Manny also said he’s seeing a trend among baby boomers.
“More and more are planning (life-celebration parties before they die so they can celebrate with their friends),” he said.
And in the area of spiritual growth…
…Altadena Community Church was offering visitors a look at their various community activities. Their ministries include a food pantry, the Friends Outside program for families with an incarcerated loved one, and the Pasadena area CROP Hunger Walk.
Across the way, we saw a familiar face: LGBTQ at All Saints co-facilitator Kimberly Anderson. In an earlier conversation, she’d described All Saints Episcopal Church as, “not just a gay church, (but) an ‘everybody’ church”.
“Our book club is reading Teaching the Cat to Sit,” Kimberly said, as we discussed some of her church’s current activities. (All Saints also offers an LGBTQ support group and monthly lunches, according to their website. ) And she also said LGBTQ at All Saints has a new flag design, pictured here. Currently, church members are sewing the new flag, which should be ready by the next Pride festival!
As always, talent and creativity were highlighted at SGV Pride’s “XV” Festival.
Once again, The Big Draw L.A. art event was on hand, and guests could create their messages of support. Most of their tiles wound up on the “yellow brick road”…
…unless, of course, the artist happened to be under ten.
“Say thank you,” a mother directed her small daughter, as she and her three children left the Big Draw area. Proudly carrying her handwork, the child obeyed.
And we just wish these talented folks had been dancing! The Bloomin’ Squares, founded in 1997, is an LGBTQ square-dancing club. Their website describes their style as “faster and funner” than traditional square dance–and everyone’s welcome to participate in their events and classes.
2016 Pride attendees also had the opportunity to discover lots of new favorite great reads. From noon on, authors read from their work in the Author’s Forum.
Starting off the lineup was Christian writer May Walker, author of “God Loves You Gay” and “God Dwells In You”. She began her presentation with a moving personal story. After a close friend’s passing, she said, she went into the chapel to pray. A white butterfly fluttered up to her, comforting her as it lightly passed over her head.
Some time later, May continued, she was looking for a new place of worship. Outside one church, she saw dozens of white butterflies–and knew that she had found her new spiritual home.
Taking a vote, she asked, “Who wants to hear a love story?” Getting a unanimous response from her audience, she looked at a young girl and said, “Cover her ears!” before reading excerpts from her new fiction book, “Angel’s Way: A Lesbian Love Story.”
Following her was Lambda-award winning transgender writer Willy Wilkinson, who read from his book “Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency”. Willy shared stories, first of a cross-country bicycle ride with a girlfriend, then of navigating life and discrimination in the Bay Area–and the circumstances that had led him to transition, medically, from female to male.
And he kept his audience captivated, despite an accompaniment of mariachi music from across the park!
Meanwhile, the mariachi band, Mariachi Arcoiris de Los Angeles, was leading off the afternoon’s multicultural entertainment program. Mariachi Arcoiris, the world’s first (and only) LGBTQ mariachi, started in the early 2000s. (“Arco iris” is Spanish for “rainbow”!)
As with any great event, 2016 Pride was enough to make attendees wish they could be in two places at once.
The live readings continued from the Author’s Forum, with Peter Saenz throwing a good Halloween scare into his listeners. He read excerpts from two of his latest short stories, published in the new horror anthology “In Darkness Peering: Tales From the Bent Side.”
And Peter had some excellent news for horror buffs. “We had such a great time (publishing this anthology) that we’re doing it again,” he said. “Our next horror anthology should be out in a couple of weeks.”
Following Peter in the Author’s Forum would be David Reddish, reading from his new book “Conquest of the Planet of the Geeks: Sex, Drugs and Superheroes, Volume 2”. C.B. Lee would finish out the day, with selections from her superhero novel, “Not Your Sidekick”.
A wine-tasting fundraiser started at 1:00. So did a different kind of musical performance.
From the entertainment tent came the sound of drumming.
Taiko Center of Los Angeles performers were introducing their audience to the art of Japanese taiko drumming. TCLA celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, according to their website. They offer taiko drumming classes, from beginning workshops to performance skills, and have two performance ensembles.
And this afternoon, the drummers appeared to be having as much fun as their audience did.
From a piece that started as a gentle rain rhythm (and, of course, developed into a deluge) to an audience-participation challenge, they mixed professional skills with a playful spirit.
After the performance, they even invited audience members up to try their hand at taiko drumming–and gave an up-close demonstration!
Classical Japanese music was next. The L.A. Japanese Music Ensemble used traditional instruments to play a variety of selections…
…including one on the koto, or Japanese zither, which Shih-Wei Wu (on flute) said was played as a game in geisha houses.
The afternoon was winding down–but there was still one more musical group to come.
The WEEfolk Ensemble performed an eclectic mix of Irish-Celtic music and–Japanese selections! Their repertoire ranged from the centuries-old Irish ballad “Eileen Aroon” to a lively dance number–and a Japanese selection which is the sole piece performed, during a multiple-day festival in Japan!
“Today, after doing this for fifteen years, I think this was, by far, the best event we’ve ever had,” said SGV President Aaron Saenz. “Regarding attendance, regarding what events we’ve been having, the new location.”
Aaron, who organized SGV Pride’s first festival as a picnic in the park in 2001, said Central Park’s layout contributed to Pride XV’s success. “It was definitely more shade, definitely more conductive with the pathways…and a little more intimate, with…everything kind of in the same area.”
That location, he said, was serendipitous. Originally, SGV Pride had planned to host “XV On the Fifteenth” in Memorial Park, as they had done in 2015.
“The long story short, the park ended up being double booked accidentally, and so…they offered us Central Park, or we could contact the other organization. But they were on vacation, so we just (decided), let’s move it to Central Park, and we’ll go with it.”
Then, is Central Park in the plans for 2017? Aaron didn’t rule out the possibilty. But, he said, SGV Pride also has some other options: “One of our original ideas behind San Gabriel Valley Pride was to move it all over the San Gabriel Valley.
“Maybe, since we’ve moved, moving again will not be so hard,” he said, with a laugh.
Now, what about the next fifteen years? Aaron said he’d been asking attendees what they’d like to see, in future San Gabriel Valley Pride festivals.
“A lot of people say that they want a parade,” he said. “So, that’s a lot of work. So if anybody’s interested in helping with the parade or has experience (with organizing community parades), please contact us, email@example.com.”
In addition, he said, a number of people had said they’d like SGV Pride to bring back a dance tent in the future. “So if you have any experience with that, those are two ideas (we hear) a lot. So, we’ll see.”
Aaron admits that,even with a parade and/or dance tent, “XV on the Fifteenth” will still be a tough act to follow.
“It’s going to be hard to beat, next year.”