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Miller, Mark James

June is LGBTQ Pride Month, with 2019 marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, universally agreed to be the nascence of the LQBTQ movement.

While parades and rallies will be taking place from coast to coast, the event held in Arroyo Grande’s Heritage Square Park on June 1 was unique in that it was the first ever in the Five Cities.

“We saw the need for a celebration here,” said Erica Andrade, executive director of Five Cities House of Pride and Equity, (HOPE), which planned and organized the event. “For many younger members of our community, getting to San Luis Obispo or Santa Maria can be challenging.”

Five Cities HOPE is dedicated to helping younger LGBTQ people, but is equally committed to being family-friendly. All are welcome, and with booths as diverse as the Arroyo Grande Police Department to Tranz Central Coast, the inclusive and positive atmosphere in the park could be felt from one end to the next.

Erica and the rest of the HOPE volunteers began planning the event a year ago. Their careful preparations paid off.

“It exceeded my expectations,” Erica said, and plans for an even bigger celebration next year are already in the works.

One of Erica’s goals for the future of Five Cities HOPE is to become more visible and better serve the local LGBTQ community. She wants to have a mentoring and an after-school program. HOPE already has family support groups as well as Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) groups to help people cope with some of the challenges that the LGBTQ community and their families face.

Especially gratifying to Erica is the wholehearted community support the event received.

“Pride is our event,” said Arroyo Grande Mayor Caren Ray Russom to the crowd of 500. “When any group is deprived of their rights, we all lose a piece of our freedom.”

She was echoed by Arroyo Grande Mayor Pro Tem Kristen Barneich: “I believe this event will be the perfect opportunity to show that we as a city not only welcome but encourage diversity.”

Arroyo Grande City Council members Lan George, Jimmy Paulding and Keith Storton also expressed their support.

“It is my hope,” said George, “that through these awareness events and with the support of our community, our local youth will feel loved, supported and free to express their true identities.”

Paulding agrees: “It is so inspiring to see the hard work of Five Cities HOPE come to fruition with the Five Cities first-ever Pride Celebration in my hometown of Arroyo Grande.”

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There are still challenges ahead for the LGBTQ community. The Trump administration recently announced rollbacks in Obama-era protections for LGBTQ people, among them a policy to allow federally-funded homeless shelters the right to deny services to transgender people, and a proposal that would enable healthcare workers to refuse treatment to trans patients on religious grounds.

The first Gay Pride Parade took place June 28, 1970, in New York City. Erica is aware of the history of the movement, and its significance.

“In 20 years,” she said, “I want to look back and ask what side was I on? I want to be on the right side.”

The fact that the LGBTQ movement has gone from the margin and is closing in on the mainstream is shown in many ways. When I met with Erica for coffee the day before the event, the cashier said, “This is for HOPE? No charge.”

One small act of kindness — a sea change in perception.

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