Resurrected, Boisterous OC Pride Festival "a Smashing Success"

Park rangers talk with OC Pride participants about the noise at Mason Regional Park in Irvine on Saturday.
Park rangers talk with OC Pride participants about the noise at Mason Regional Park in Irvine on Saturday.
Photo by Christopher Victorio

The crowd was small but boisterous, there was a minor issue with the noise and some participants did not know at first that the showy police presence was for their benefit, but otherwise the resurrected, family friendly OC Pride Festival at Mason Regional Park in Irvine Saturday was "a smashing success," according to organizers of the LGBT event.

(See photographer Christopher Victorio's slideshow.)

Nearly 500 people attended and feedback "was really strong," according to James S. Nowick, a member of the Orange County Equality Coalition and a UC Irvine professor who also organized a Proposition 8 forum on campus last spring with UCI Law School dean Erwin Chemerinsky.

The police were out because of the experience of past LGBT pride festivals in Orange County, including the notorious 1988 inaugural event in Santa Ana's Centennial Park, where angry Christian conservatives threw urine-filled balloons, taunted attendees with chants of "Go back to your closet" and cheered on an airplane they'd hired to fly over the event with a banner reading, "Sodomites out of Santa Ana! No AIDS in OC!"

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Despite such a reception, pride festivals grew to draw up to 9,000 participants in Orange County. But with waning interest, the plug was finally pulled in 2002.

It was the reawakening of Orange County's LGBT community amid the votes and debates over marriage equality that led to what is hoped to be a new annual pride event, according to Nowick, who previously explained why this first run would be decidedly smaller and geared toward families.

The new direction was appreciated, according to feedback Nowick received, including this note from attendee Karla Bland: "I would like to say a big thank you and congratulations for bringing back pride to OC. It was really great to see everyone there having a good time with family and friends and feeling the energy of such a positive event. What the OC Pride Committee pulled off with just a few months of planning was absolutely incredible.  We had a great time and are looking forward to next year."

Speakers included: activist Zoe Nicholson, who gave a rousing speech on fighting for LGBT civil rights; Irvine City Councilwoman Beth Krom, who talked about LGBT civil rights issues in Irvine and the rest of Orange County, as well as her candidacy for the 48th Congressional District; Jennifer C. Pizer, Lambda Legal's  senior counsel and Marriage Project director, on the broader struggle for LGBT rights and marriage equality; and Irvine United Congregational Church minister Paul Tellstrom, who shared personal and spiritual messages.
During the afternoon, activist Chelsea Salem led the "Kiss in for Equality," a local tie-in with the Great Nationwide Kiss-In that was created in response to incidents in Texas and Utah where lesbian and gay couples were arrested for simple displays of affection. Irvine's version actually began with a procession to the park from the nearby Marketplace at University Town Center. Participants carried a strip from the rainbow flag that stretched across New York's 5th Avenue during the 25th annual commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall riots.

Other attractions included displays with artwork, photographs and artifacts depicting the struggle for marriage equality, past Orange County Pride festivals and, courtesy of AIDS Care Teams in Our Neighborhood (ACTION), OC AIDS Quilt panels. Adding poignancy were the wedding day photos of gay and lesbian couples who were able to get married during the brief window of time when same-sex marriage was legal in California. Another panel of artwork by children showed equality through the eyes of young people.

Booths were staffed by 22 organizations, from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Shanti OC to Equality California to the U.S. Census Bureau. John Dumas, who helped coordinate the booths, said representatives of many organizations told him afterward what a positive experience it was and how they hoped to return next year.

Unlike more commercial LGBT Pride festivals, OC Pride did not include booths hawking merchandise because organizers wanted to keep "the focus on participation and community, rather than on consumption," explained Nowick.

That's not to say folks left empty-handed. Included also were prize drawings for $1,400 worth of items donated by 13 local businesses and community groups, from Steelhead Brewing Company and Zinc Café & Market, to Alakazam Comic Books and Men Alive-The OC Gay Mens Chorus, which also pitched in by directing traffic. Speaking of pitching in, Kevin Castro volunteered to interpret the speeches/performances into American Sign Language for several deaf and hard-of-hearing people in attendance.

Gay comic Ryan Hill and lesbian folk singer Sal Landers entertained the crowd throughout the day.

Were people dancing?

1) Again, we point you to Victorio's slideshow.

2) Did you even have to ask?

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