Pride without prejudice

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By Jason Lillard

(Lawrence Gonzales)

By Jason Lillard

Alongside outward displays of sexuality at Riverside’s gay pride festival, many political issues were also stressed.

Between transvestite karaoke and RuPaul‘s performance at the end of the night, the gay activists hoped to instill community and a culture of acceptance in Riverside.

The Lesbian and Gay Pride festival was celebrated on Sept. 13 in downtown’s White Park.

The event was brought together by the Jeffery Owens Community Center, an organization named for the victim of a fatal stabbing outside of a gay bar in 2002.

According to its Web site, http://www.jocc.org, the center was organized “to promote health and well-being of youth and adults by providing support, education, and advocacy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Many attendees of the festival admitted that they had not heard of the community center beforehand, but were optimistic about the event’s power to draw in new youths and volunteers.

Renée Painter of Safehaven Church was amongst the many that expressed excitement about the positive impacts of the community that they felt would ensue with the help of the festival.

“Pride has been a long time getting reestablished and I’m glad its finally here,” Painter said.

Riverside mayor, Ronald O. Loveridge, appeared in front of a growing crowd at noon to kick off the stage acts and personally endorse the festival.

“Riversiders should collectively assume the responsibility of facing the challenges and embracing the opportunities created by diversity,” he said, citing a statement previously released by the mayor’s office and displayed in city hall.

The Riverside Police Department also came out in support of the festival, in addition to sponsoring the event.

Many of the officers volunteered their time as security enforcement.

The relationship between the gay community and the police was commented on by comedian Ant.

“Thirty years ago the police were busting into our bars and arresting us, and now they’re helping us with gay pride,” Ant said during his routine.

The festival’s underlying political importance arose, in part, from the upcoming vote for Proposition 8.

“No on Prop 8” was repeated often by activists at the event. Proposition 8 would reverse the California Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. It would render all such marriages void if California voters vote in favor of the amendment to the state constitution.

Throughout the day various same-sex couples were legally married and some had unofficial commitment ceremonies.

Among these couples were “Tom’nRichard” Wilheim. They had been married multiple times only to have legislation later annul each union.

Five church organizations had stands at Pride, one of which displayed a banner that read “God’s love is for everyone.”

Although the focus of the event hinged on inclusiveness and acceptance, the political aspect was also stressed by many attendees.

Political flyers were distributed promoting presidential candidate Barack Obama as well as 44th District candidate Bill Hedrick – both democratic candidates with support from the gay and lesbian communities.

Many people, including Steve Valkenburg of the Stonewall Democrats, consider the upcoming elections crucial to the civil rights cause.

“It’s a matter of equality,” Valkenburg said.

The event was for all ages and family friendly to a degree. Many came in revealing clothing or just in their underwear. Provocative costumes were also sold by one of the vendor booths.

Many local establishments such as the Menagerie and VIP bars and Back To The Grind, as well as many corporations such as Budweiser, Smirnoff and ID Lube sponsored the festival.

Planned Parenthood and Aids Walk also sponsored the festival.

Both had booths dispensing contraceptives in addition to providing sexual health information.

These organizations work with the center to provide HIV testing free of charge.

The Jeffery Owens Community Center moved to its current residence at 3845 10th St. in summer 2006, and shares a building with Planned Parenthood.

(Lawrence Gonzales)

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