After a long and often difficult year that has isolated and separated community members due to the coronavirus pandemic, LGBTQ+ Pride Month has offered local residents the opportunity to celebrate while also organizing and preparing for challenges that lay ahead.
To welcome Pride Month in the Tri-Valley, organizers from Livermore Pride hosted its first-ever Pride Prom festivities (dubbed "Pride Prom-ish" because of 2021 conditions) in downtown Livermore on June 5, providing a space for students and residents alike to celebrate the month, mark the end of the school year and enjoy a community event.
"Many of the activities for our local high-schoolers in particular were canceled this year, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to host a 'Pride Prom-ish.' We were actually planning to host a Pride Prom last year but with the shutdown obviously we couldn't," Livermore Pride Executive Director Amy Rose told the Weekly.
Hosted at Wingen Bakery in downtown Livermore, the inaugural Livermore Pride Prom-ish featured community members and students dressing up in their sharpest prom attire to have their photos taken at a stand inside the bakery.
Attendees were also able to enjoy a special menu from Wingen Bakery -- which held an early opening event in order to coincide with the Pride event -- for a picnic at Stockmen's Park.
While Pride Prom events typically include other aspects of high school proms such as dancing, this year's celebration was scaled down due to the pandemic.
"Hopefully next year we'll do a full on prom. Ideally we would have had an actual Pride Prom that would have been open to high school and over that would have been a super fun all inclusive dance with all the usual musings of prom," Rose said.
While Livermore Pride plans to host a large-scale Pride event in October, organizers said it was important to host the June event in order to provide a local place for residents to celebrate and to increase awareness of LGBTQ+ issues.
"There is still so much discrimination against LGBTQ folks even though we've come a long way. Pride started as a protest and there's still that kind of discrimination. One aspect is to continue to do the work necessary to help make sure that everyone is treated equitably," Rose said.
"(Pride) is meant to be joyful; it's meant to be happy and fun, vibrant and colorful -- while at the same time remembering where we came from and why, to continue to bring to awareness that we are not done bringing equitable rights," Rose added.
Pride Prom-ish in particular offered residents a more inclusive environment, including for LGBTQ+ adults who were unable to enjoy their own prom experiences.
"We're still a little nervous to do big Pride events but something like this means so much because I never went to my prom. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school as a kid, and as a trans man that doesn't exactly lend itself to prom," said Charlie Hunts, who attended the Pride Prom-ish alongside his wife Madeline Burchard.
"It looks different but it feels even more special than if I went my senior year in high school, as an out trans man with my wife and the pictures were really fun. We're going to treasure those for a long time," he added. "We're just so appreciative. In a town like Livermore sometimes it can feel far from the Bay Area. To have an organization like Livermore Pride start up, keep going through a COVID year and throw events like this that are authentic means the world."
Pride offers an opportunity for residents to organize against oppression, according to Burchard and Hunts, who added that the need for organization is even more important now due to rising instances of government-backed discrimination of LGBTQ+ groups.
"After being away from each other over the past year, I think it's going to be important over the next year or so and come together as a community especially with what's going on in political landscaping," Burchard said. "Our community is under attack right now from legislators and politicians looking to take rights away. So it's going to be important over the next year to mobilize and part of activism and mobilizing is coming together and socializing is part of the base of it all."
"There's been more anti-trans bills passed in the past year than in the past 10 years combined, so I think it's really important to be viable especially after such a tough year," Hunts added.
For residents interested in learning more about Livermore Pride, the group plans to host an ally training program where residents can receive training on how to better support the LGBTQ+ community. Livermore Pride is also set to host "PRIDEFEST2021" on Oct. 16 and 17
In recognition of Pride Month and its LGBTQ+ residents, each of the four Tri-Valley cities and the town of Danville have decided to exercise their government speech by raising the LGBTQ+ Pride flag on municipal flagpoles throughout the community.
"This year is the third consecutive year that we have flown a version of the LGBTQ+ Pride Flag in conjunction with our LGBTQ+ Pride Month proclamation," Dublin Vice Mayor Shawn Kumagai told the Weekly.
"Dublin continues to acknowledge the unique contributions and challenges of our LGBTQ+ community. Last year we flew the Philadelphia Pride Flag and this year we decided to fly the 'Progress Pride Flag,' a design which acknowledges transgender people, people of color and those people affected by HIV/AIDS," added Kumagai, who was the first openly gay person to serve on the Dublin City Council.
"This act is an important outward expression of support for the LGBTQ+ community members who live and work in Dublin, and I am proud that we are a leader within the East Bay in flying the Pride flag. This year, for the first time, every municipality in the Tri-Valley is flying the Pride flag in June and that is amazing progress," he said.
Dublin was the first local city to raise the Pride Flag back in June 2019, but was soon followed by Livermore which raised the flag during its inaugural Livermore Pride Festival in October 2019 (LGBTQ History Month), when City Councilmember Brittni Kiick says Livermore Pride was presented with the city's first-ever "Inclusion Proclamation."
"Pride was born out of protest. Pride marches and celebrations allowed community members to build safety in numbers. In communities who have historically been marginalized, living in hiding for fear of violence, showing public joy is a form of protest," Kiick told the Weekly.
"A study by HRC reports that 68% LGBTQ youth have heard negative messages about being LGBTQ from their elected leaders. The city of Livermore does not want to add to that statistic. Raising the Pride flag means that the city of Livermore recognizes and welcomes the LGBTQ community," she added.
Kiick said that the need for these events and recognitions is still very present today, particularly among LGBTQ+ youth -- 42% of whom have reported seriously considering suicide in the past year according to a 2021 study by the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on suicide prevention efforts among LGBTQ+ youth.
"Although I wish I could say this was just a celebration and to show joy, the reality is actions like raising a Pride flag significantly impact the mental health and perception of safety for queer people in our community," Kiick said, adding:
"Now it's our job as local, state and federal government electeds, to make sure that perception of increased safety is a reality by enacting policy that will increase the health and safety of the LGBTQ community."