All together now
Stonewall Alliance’s annual celebration buoyed by allies in the wake of Orlando massacre
As in cities and towns across the country, local members of the LGBT community felt shaken to the core last June by news of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. That tragedy, which claimed 49 lives, left deep scars.
Out of the loss has sprung an unexpected gain.
The day after the tragedy, one of the first calls fielded by the Stonewall Alliance Center in Chico came from Mike O’Brien, chief of the Chico Police Department. It was not a perfunctory minute on the phone; Thomas Kelem, the center’s executive director, described the outreach as “very nice and genuine on his part” and said O’Brien wanted to “see what we needed and what he could do to help us feel and be safe.”
O’Brien’s initiative led to a town hall meeting about security for the local LGBT community, which in turn influenced how the center and the police—working together—decided to approach this weekend’s Stonewall Chico Pride.
The Chico Police Department will have a booth at the centerpiece event Saturday (Aug. 20), the Pride Festival, at Chico City Plaza, where Volunteers in Police Service (or VIPS) also will be on hand with a vintage police car.
This represents a distinctly prominent police presence at Chico Pride, which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. Previously, Kelem said, officers “strolled by occasionally, and the park rangers [would come] in and out to make sure everything’s OK—but it’s the first time they’re participating in the festival itself, which is really cool.”
Maya Rand, the Stonewall Alliance Center’s program coordinator, characterized the police department’s participation as “more community involvement rather than policing” and the paradigm as “safety rather than surveillance.”
Interjected Alyssa Larson, the center’s coordinator: “Of course, if we need them…”
“Right,” Rand added. “But we don’t anticipate needing them.”
Since Orlando—even before—the local environment has not been overtly hostile for members of the LGBT community, according to Stonewall Alliance Center staff. They’ve received an outpouring of affirmation that has manifested, for example, in sponsorships and volunteers for Pride.
“In the case of Orlando, that was one person [shooter Omar Mateen], not a climate,” Larson said. “That we’ve seen, there’s been no community backlash, no downward slope. If anything, we’ve seen a lot more support and a lot more positivity around Chico, and Pride is looking like it’s going to be as good, if not better, than it’s ever been before.”
Stonewall Chico Pride will pay tribute to Orlando in several ways. Friday night’s Spectacle of Wonders adult variety show at the Chico Women’s Club will include several memorial performances. Saturday, both the downtown festival and the afternoon Beer Garden and entertainment event at the Women’s Club will feature altars for the Pulse victims.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever stop talking about it or thinking about it or remembering it; it was a huge tragedy in our country and in our community,” Rand said. “It’s brought our community together and it’s also brought our allies out from hibernation … as tragedies seem to do, it’s bringing people together even more within the community.”
Pride will not be a funeral dirge, however.
“We want to focus on Chico for Chico Pride,” Rand added, “while also celebrating other communities. We are absolutely keeping Pulse in mind while also focusing on moving forward as a community and strengthening our community as well.”
Serendipitously, the headline entertainer and emcee for Friday night’s show, Spikey Van Dykey, comes from Orlando. Pride organizers asked for input and ascertained that the mood there has progressed from mourning to, as Rand put it, “remembering and celebrating and strengthening the community. I want to make sure we are respecting that feeling.”
As such, Pride comprises a series of upbeat events. The teen dance Friday night at Trinity United Methodist Church has a roaring ’20s theme. The variety show, produced by dancer/choreographer and drag king Tucker Noir, has a Vaudevillian circus vibe. Also on the schedule are an adult dance Saturday night at the Women’s Club, a free brunch Sunday in Bidwell Park’s Oak Grove and an inaugural film festival Sunday night at the Pageant Theatre.
“I think we have more entertainment,” Kelem said. “At the Plaza Saturday, it’s more packed, and [also] at the Beer Garden. I think things are filling in more, as well as adding new stuff.”
Added Rand: “It gets bigger and better every year—we’re trying to keep that going this year as well.”
With Pride, the overarching goal for the Stonewall Alliance Center is to “bring the community together, have a lot of fun and create awareness and inclusion,” Rand said. Part of that awareness is for the label GSM (gender and sexual minority) that has entered the lexicon to replace the various LGBT iterations.
“Everyone has a different version of which letters to say and include, which order they go in,” Larson explained. “That leads to kind of a hierarchical separation of who is what and who fits where; and, if you are trying to be inclusive, there are so many identities that we’d need to list in order not to leave anyone out.”
Exclusion would be the antithesis of Pride.