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Miller, Mark James

It was a first for Santa Maria — an event that brought more than 400 people out in support of the LGBTQI community.

Aug. 12, 2017, will be long remembered as the day when the House of Pride and Equality (HOPE) sponsored the first Pride Celebration and Resource Fair in Santa Maria. Like June 28, 1970, when the first gay pride parade took place in New York City, or the Stonewall riots that preceded it, this was an event that will be seen as a milestone in the history of a movement for freedom and equality that is still growing and evolving.

HOPE is more than a name and more than a gathering place for the LGBTQI community in Santa Maria. It is a state of mind, a positive outlook on life and the future that reflects an attitude that seems to say, no matter what obstacles we face now, we will overcome them and create a better tomorrow, not just for us but everyone.

In addition to the 400 guests at the Aug. 12 event, more than two dozen organizations had booths. These included the Santa Maria Democratic Club, CAUSE and Planned Parenthood. Congressman Salud Carbajal also attended. Noting that “great progress” has been made for the LGBTQI community, Carbajal pointed out that the Trump administration is determined to challenge that progress.

“The momentum must not stop,” he told the crowd.

It isn’t likely to, not if the determined people at HOPE have anything to say about it. While the Pride Festival was a first for HOPE, it will not be the last. Organizers Audy Macdonald and Jessie Funes have plans for the future that not only include more pride events, but more reaching out to the community as well.

“We hope to open an office someday where we can better serve our constituents,” said HOPE President Funes. “We want people to feel like they are home” when they come to HOPE.

“I believe that as more of us come out and become visible, more people will realize we are their neighbors, family members, co-workers, not a threat to anyone,” said Eva Didion, a member of HOPE’s board and the group’s senior advisor.

When I visited the House of Pride and Equity recently I was immediately impressed by the sanguine, optimistic atmosphere of the place. Everyone was relaxed, comfortable, and open about who they were.

“We are a group of people who accept and love each other the way we are,” said Didion. “Coming out to friends and family can be very difficult.” She added that one of HOPE’s goals is to begin providing counseling services that will help support LGBTQI people when they face the kinds of difficulties that coming out can bring on.

This is echoed by Funes.

“The last thing we want is for someone to feel alone,” she said, adding that another of HOPE’s goals is to create a community center where people can come together and be themselves.

“There are a lot of people suffering in the world because of their gender, spiritual beliefs, or the color of their skin,” adds another member. “If we can’t save the world we can do a lot to change the community we live in.”

“I’m proud to be part of this movement,” said Audy MacDonald, HOPE’s secretary. “It’s so needed here.”

My visit to HOPE left me feeling better about the world. The atmosphere was so positive, joyous even, that I felt exhilarated. As Helen Keller said, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”

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Mark James Miller teaches English at Allan Hancock College. He can be reached at