Struggle for equality continues

Reflections on the past and recent landmarks at Chico’s Pride Weekend

Locals gathered by the hundreds for Pride Weekend’s main event at Chico City Plaza on Saturday, Aug. 24.

Locals gathered by the hundreds for Pride Weekend’s main event at Chico City Plaza on Saturday, Aug. 24.

PHOTO Courtesy of DJ EClEctic

In addressing the colorfully dressed crowd gathered for Stonewall Alliance’s Pride Weekend celebration at Chico City Plaza on Saturday, Aug. 24, Scott Gruendl—self-described as Chico’s “first, second, and only openly gay mayor”—wore his heart on his sleeve.

“It gives me great pride to be a top elected official in the city of Chico, to be recognized as a gay man legally married to another gay man, and that the law recognizes it doesn’t matter who I love,” Gruendl said, inviting his husband, Nicholas Goody, on stage for an embrace. “As long as I love him, that is what’s important.”

In his speech, made close to noon during the main event of Stonewall’s three-day Pride celebration, Gruendl pointed to the significant progress made on LGBTQ issues in the past year. He made particular note of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act—the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by state governments—and upholding a lower court’s undoing of California’s ban of same-sex marriage via Proposition 8.

In an interview prior to his address, Gruendl explained his personal connection to California’s same-sex marriage ban—he and Goody were one of thousands of gay couples in California who rushed to tie the knot in the four-month window prior to Prop. 8 being passed in 2008.

Despite the progress, Gruendl, along with fellow speaker and Councilwoman Tami Ritter, emphasized that there is still much to be done on the equality front.

“Until every person experiences the freedom to be their authentic self … until every person has the freedom to love whomever and however they choose, our activism is not done,” Ritter passionately told the audience.

“The equality struggle continues,” Gruendl said, proceeding to reel off a series of national figures: Less than a quarter of states issue same-sex marriage licenses; only a quarter of states fully define hate crimes or bullying as relating to sexual identity; less than a third of states allow hospital visits from same-sex partners; and less than half of states allow same-sex adoption.

Likewise, Aydin Kennedy, a local transgender man, activist and coordinator of Stonewall’s community counseling program, praised recent state legislation during an interview, but made it clear that there’s plenty of work ahead for the transgender community.

Kennedy said he considers Assembly Bill 1266, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Aug. 12, a step in the right direction. The law, which allows California’s students to compete on sports teams and use facilities—including restrooms—based on their chosen gender identity rather than sex assigned at birth, will go into effect Jan. 1.

Still, Kennedy said, progress on transgender issues is “10 or 20 years behind” the rest of the LGBTQ movement because “the idea of gender identity not being fixed is a very new concept for a lot of people.”

Kennedy identified particularly pressing concerns for the transgender community: Safe access to hormones and surgeries for making gender transitions; being able to more easily change identification and legal documentation; and reducing the alarming rate of violence against transgender individuals.

Despite the broad range of challenges facing the LGBTQ community, Pride Weekend in Chico—now in its 25th year—has come a long way in recent years in terms of community support and public visibility. Gruendl recalled several years when the celebration amounted to little more than a backyard barbecue.

Jacke Humphrey-Straub—a Chico State graduate and current program manager of Sacramento’s Gender Health Center—remembers that when she joined the Stonewall Alliance Board of Directors in 2010, the event was comparatively small and secluded, making for “a very different vibe” from this year’s Pride celebration, she said.

“The whole point of Pride is to be visible, to say, ‘We’re here, we’re not going anywhere,’” Humphrey-Straub said. “It’s very significant to be in the center of the city, in the open. Whether everyone likes it or not, we’re here.”

Kennedy, who has participated in Pride Weekend’s various manifestations since 1995, agreed that holding the event in the heart of Chico has served to “increase the feeling of pride. In a relatively small city, people can sometimes feel like they have to go somewhere else to be a part of an [LGBTQ] community,” he said. Events like Pride, Kennedy added, which welcome general community participation, make such individuals “feel like they belong.”

Also contributing to the supportive atmosphere was a diverse collection of vendor booths. Many of the participating businesses were sponsors that the public wouldn’t necessarily associate with Stonewall Alliance, which “speaks to the mutual relationship Stonewall Alliance has with businesses in this community. These are all connections we’ve sought out or had come to us; 10 years ago, these vendors wouldn’t have been here. It’s a real indicator of how much we’ve grown.”