Taking PRIDE

Festival this weekend bigger than before

By Chris O'Neal 08/21/2014


Michael Dawson ran at a frantic pace on the grounds of City Hall last month during the Diversity Gala, a fundraiser and awards ceremony dedicated to Ventura’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community, hosted by the newly rebranded Diversity Collective. As Diversity’s new vice president, Dawson was tasked with kicking the gala off with a bang — as it acted not only as a party, but a reintroduction to the community of the new board of directors.

Though assuring that guests were fed on time was a top priority for Dawson that night, of particular interest to him, going forward, is how to make the upcoming Ventura County PRIDE Beach festival a success and build a new foundation of support for the LGBT community in Ventura. After joining the team earlier this year, Dawson and crew have restructured the Diversity Collective with big changes in mind. The first big change will be at this Saturday’s PRIDE Festival in downtown Ventura.

Last year’s event at the park near the fairgrounds, and years prior at Mission Park, were open to the public; but according to Dawson, fencing the event in will provide better security and allow revelers to take advantage of all the festival has to offer. Furthermore, in order to raise funds for the Collective’s projects, there will be a $7 admission fee, but Dawson says this shouldn’t deter people from coming. Last year, there were 21 vendors total; this year, there will be close to 80.

“We’re working with a lot more of the community at large than has ever been done before,” said Dawson. “This year, you get to walk around and shop, drink and have fun.”

The PRIDE festival cost roughly $25,000 to put on this year, funds that came out of the pockets of the organizers.

Dawson says the festival isn’t their main focus, and shouldn’t be their main focus going forward, but rather they used it as a tool to benefit the community. First on the agenda: a new facility to assist young LGBT people in Ventura.

In 2009, the then-Rainbow Alliance, which had operated offices in Ventura to assist LGBT youth with mental or personal health issues, closed its doors to consolidate after funds for HIV/AIDS were cut. In 2011, the Alliance closed its doors completely. Since then, there hasn’t been a full-time facility open for LGBT youth in the county, but there have been other options.

Courtney Lindberg, director of the board at the youth-focused support group Rainbow Umbrella, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, says that the importance of a gay/straight alliance in schools will be the focus of her efforts in the coming year.

“Some of these kids are lucky enough to have supportive parents and siblings and schools, but that’s not always the case,” said Lindberg. “There are a lot of kids who have to lie about where they are so they can come to groups. Sometimes it really relies on us to provide the support services.”

Lindberg says a large part of helping students is in building a strong gay/straight alliance.

“We need to enhance the GSAs (gay/straight alliances) in all the schools,” said Lindberg, who says that Rainbow Umbrella has been working with the Ventura Unified School District. “Some of them maybe treat them more like a study hall, and that’s not necessarily geared toward the LGBT and alliance’s interest.”

Ventura County is not lacking in support groups. The Ventura chapter of the Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) has a strong presence in the county and meets on the fourth Tuesdays at the end every month. For more information, visit www.pflag.org/ventura.

PFLAG is a national support group active since 1972. Gary Zinik, the local chapter’s coordinator, opened PFLAG Ventura in 2013, though there have been chapters in Ventura before. Zinik, who has two gay children himself, is a psychologist who specializes in sexual counseling, and treating and evaluating sexual disorders.

Zinik, who won the Alliance Hero award at the Diversity Gala, says that he got involved because of his children.

“I want them to enjoy all of the privileges and happiness that everyone else can have in this country,” said Zinik. “Even though things are really progressive and we’ve come a long way in California, there is still work to be done.”

The Ventura PRIDE Beach Festival will take place on Saturday, Aug. 22 at the park at Surfers Point, corner of Shoreline Drive and Figueroa St., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. For more information, visit www.vcpride.com or www.diversitycollective.org.


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