June 1st—only about a week away— marks the 29th annual Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade and Festival, celebrating the Central Valley’s LGBTQ community. Last year’s attendance broke records and, this year, the community hopes to continue the trend with the theme: “2GETHER.”
One of the organizations taking part in the parade and festival this year is LGBT Fresno, formerly known as Gay Fresno. I recently had a chance to sit down with Jason Scott, the organization’s division leader, and Andrea, the volunteer coordinator, to get some more info about the event and ask why people— whether or not they identify as LGBTQ— should attend and volunteer.
The festivities are reason enough; nestled into Fresno’s hip-but-ancient Tower District, there will be food, entertainers, and raffles for bags full of items given to LGBT Fresno by their sponsors. Bobby Salazar’s, a much-loved Mexican food chain in the Fresno area, has donated two brunch tickets as a part of the raffle. The proceeds from those raffles go straight to funding LGBT Fresno’s various community services. The parade, itself, promises to be as colorful and fun as ever and, due to the yearly increase in attendance, some national organizations are starting to pitch in.
“Free Mom Hugs,” started by Sara Cunningham in Oklahoma in 2015, is a stand-out example. Sara was a devout Christian who, after her son came out as gay, reconciled her faith and her son’s sexuality. It was a long process, but as she said in an interview with Indianwomenblog.org: “there’s no rule that one can’t be gay and practice their faith at the same time.”
Unfortunately, her response was far from typical, especially in religious communities. Many families distance themselves from LGBTQ relatives, some parents going so far as to disown their own children. Noticing the trend, Sara’s organization dedicated itself to filling in for those unloving families by giving members of the LGBTQ community the unconditional familial love they deserve. These days, she sometimes stands in as a mother in weddings, if requested.
But, coming out to Pride doesn’t have to be a big political statement, nor does it require any baring of the soul. In fact, when I asked Jason what he liked best about Pride, he summed it up in two words:
According to him, all you have to do is show up, have a good time, and hang out with people. It’s a family-friendly event, too. More and more families are joining the party, and there’s even been an increase of gay and lesbian couples arriving with their children in tow. Jason, himself, is among them. As a result, the organizers will be opening a kid’s area at Pride, complete with bounce houses.
Still, some non-LGBTQ people, regardless of their opinions of the community, can be reluctant to attend Pride events, worrying that the event isn’t “for” them or that members might be hostile towards those outside of the community. Luckily, Jason and Andrea weren’t the only members of LGBT Fresno I talked to. Johnnie Ann Huffman, a straight ally who’s been with LGBT Fresno for years, had her own pitch:
“This is not a political straight people suck parade,” she said. “This is a pride parade and a family event. You see whole families here. Mom and dad and kids and even their grandkids. It’s been made as inclusive as it can be, it’s meant to be welcoming. Everyone’s invited.”
Sure enough, that inviting atmosphere radiated through the restaurant where we had our meeting. But, there was one last topic to cover: even those in Fresno who support the LGBTQ community can be reluctant to make it out for Pride. They’d rather wait ‘til the end of the month and drive north to the bigger party, up in San Francisco. According to Jason, they avoid Fresno’s Pride Parade thinking it’s the same every year. It isn’t, of course; it’s been steadily growing.
To Jason, however, there’s a bigger issue at stake. He says that if no-one comes out to support the local community, it makes it easier to marginalize LGBTQ people: “A politican will look at an event, see how big it is. If they don’t see anyone, they won’t take us seriously or worry about our best interests, because they see us as a small group not worth their time.”
Johnnie, too, had something to say about the matter. She noted that most people know someone who is LGBTQ, even if they aren’t aware of it. And, for them, seeing someone they might not have known was an ally is like being stranded in a battlefield and suddenly finding someone who’s willing to fight alongside you. It makes them feel loved and supported.
“If you know one person who is LGBT, you should be here,” she said. “Don’t quietly support from your couch. Come out and show the community that you’re with them.”
About the Author:
Connor D. Johnson (C.J. Wilson) is a freelance writer specializing in journalism, game writing, and non-profit/advocacy work. He’s also a fantasy/sci-fi writer. You can contact him or find more examples of his work at his website, [here].