How much can change in just a year’s time? Ask the organizers behind this weekend’s Ventura County Pride festival.
Just before the 2015 festival in August, “Gay marriage was made legal,” said Joseph Summers, vice president of Diversity Collective. “Our festival last year was right on the cusp of that Supreme Court decision. We’ve just kind of had a full year of those rights.”
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 vote that all states would be required to issue same-sex marriage licenses to couples and to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
It was a time for celebration, and perhaps would have been for the entirety of the year leading up to this weekend’s Pride festivities.
On June 12 — almost a year to the day of the Supreme Court’s decision — a 29-year-old man killed 49 and injured 53 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Summers says that because of that event, Pride festivals across the country have seen an influx of support, but also an increase in security.
For the first time in the festival’s history, and in Ventura’s LGBT community, a liaison has been provided at the Ventura Police Department to discuss safety concerns, not only with Pride but also at so-called safe spaces in the city.
“After Orlando, within a week or so, we called them and set up a meeting to discuss key safe spaces for the LGBT community in VC,” said Summers, referring to the Collective’s youth group space and several restaurants and bars in Ventura. “We asked them what their plans were to make sure those safe spaces continue to be safe. In that process, they decided that we should probably have our own LGBT liaison.”
Diversity Collective has increased security guards from 12 to 18 and two VPD officers will be onsite during Saturday’s beach festival, says Summers. Ventura Police Officer Alyse Quiroz confirmed that two officers have been dedicated to the event. Quiroz has been working with community leaders and the Collective ahead of Pride, since she volunteered to take up the role as liaison.
“We are trying to build a better relationship,” said Quiroz, “a healthy relationship where the LGBT community can feel comfortable with questions that they may have.”
Less is More?
Meanwhile, changes are happening at the long-running local branch of the PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) organization. Recently, the national organization, which has been in operation since 1972, altered the meaning of the PFLAG acronym to reflect an increasing number of transgendered people seeking assistance or counseling. The new definition: Parents, Families, Friends and Allies United with LGBT People to Move Equality Forward.
PFLAG hosts monthly support group meetings for gay, lesbian and transgendered people, primarily focused on offering support for their families and friends.
Gary Zinik has facilitated these meetings since 2012 but will be stepping down from his position at the end of the month. Zinik says that since the Supreme Court decision, the makeup of his monthly meetings has changed.
“There has been a decrease in attendance at the monthly support group meetings,” said Zinik, who is also a board member of PFLAG and will remain so. “We used to get sometimes 20 people and now maybe we get 10 people, and half are the board members who come regularly anyway.”
Zinik says that though the numbers have decreased, he has seen an increase in the number of family members of transgendered people attending the meetings, which he says may be a trend nationally.
“That may be a good thing,” said Zinik, noting that transgender rights are becoming more prominent politically. “Maybe there is less need among families of gay and lesbian kids. Maybe they don’t need this kind of support as much as they used to because homosexuality and gay relationships are more normalized in the culture now.”
Micheal Frances Smith, a psychotherapist and community organizer who operates a private practice in Ventura, says that awareness is a key to why it is that transgendered people are feeling more comfortable in the community.
“Awareness about transgender issues in general has risen over the past couple of years,” said Smith. “It’s not that there are suddenly more transgender people, but there are more avenues for acceptance, and now you’re seeing the community that was always there.”
Smith, who is working on establishing a counseling center for the LGBT community (the first of its kind in the county since 2008 when the Rainbow Alliance shut its doors), says that groups like PFLAG still play an important role.
“PFLAG serves a very important place for [parents as] an education piece when their young son Johnny says that he wants to be Maria,” said Smith. “It’s a big education curve. Even though there has been more education we still have a long way to go; prejudice against our people is still very strong.”
The Ventura County Pride will begin on Friday, Aug. 19, with a kickoff event at Paddy’s in Ventura, followed by an all-day festival on Saturday, Aug. 20, and a breakfast at The Tavern on Sunday, Aug. 21. For more information, including location and ticket prices, visit www.diversitycollectivevc.org/pride.html.