Eleven-year-old Fresno Dear Freedom Diary author Kayan raises the Progress Pride Flag. Photo by I. smiley G. Calderon

Remembering Pride

Under a scorching sun on June 10, during LGBTQ Pride Month, the city of Fresno held its second annual LGBTQ+ Pride Flag Raising Ceremony in front of City Hall. The turnout was good, and many city and county leaders were present, as well as elected state and federal representatives.

It was a special moment for Fresnans to collectively and officially celebrate and commemorate the history and presence of LGBTQ+ people in the Central Valley.

The Progress Pride Flag being raised at Fresno City Hall. Photo by I. smiley G. Calderon

The significance of the month of June and Gay Pride stems from the legendary Stonewall Uprising (aka Stonewall Riots) in the summer of 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay club, in Greenwich Village. That’s when, early on June 28, police raided the club and forced late-night patrons onto Christopher Street. But the gay patrons weren’t having it that night and they pushed back—hard.

They valiantly protested for days and demanded a safe public space where they could just simply be themselves, free from judgment and harassment—especially from law enforcement. Stonewall was the beginning of America’s gay liberation movement, a watershed moment for LGBTQ+ Americans.

It was a transformational riot that lasted six days led in part by local heroes such as the beautifully trans Black bisexual woman, Marsha P. Johnson, founding member of the Gay Liberation Front. It is because of this historic landmark struggle that June has become known as Gay Pride Month.

People gathered to support the Fresno LGBTQ community in front of City Hall during the event “We’re Here,” which took place on June 22 in opposition to an anti-gay and anti-trans event held at the same time a couple of blocks away at Eaton Plaza, organized by several Christian pastors and Fresno City Council Member Garry Bredefeld. Photo by Peter Maiden

It is called “Pride” because it’s the promotion of equality, dignity and self-affirmation of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgenders and queers as a social group. It’s a good thing—not a haughty or pridefully snobbish occasion.

Rather, it’s a time of acceptance and appreciation. Not just of one another, but also of oneself. No longer will queers have to hide in the closet of shame or cower in the cruel, stigmatized shadow of social marginalization.

Today, gays and transgenders are more able to be themselves in public than during any other time in our nation’s history.

However, let’s not be mistaken even for one minute: Homophobia is still alive, unfortunately.

Marsha Conant, president of the Fresno Stonewall Democrats, left, talks with Fresno County Board of Education Trustee James Martinez during the “We’re Here” event. Photo by Peter Maiden

Just three years ago here in the Tower District, a popular gay club called FAB was threatened with bloodshed in the same manner as the Pulse nightclub in Florida, another gay club where 49 people were massacred just a few years before.

And in response to this year’s official recognition of Pride Month by hoisting the Pride Flag at City Hall, a group of Christian pastors and parishioners affiliated with Adventure Church, that infamous Christian church that has illegally occupied the Tower Theatre since the height of the pandemic, organized a press conference/protest.

The Facebook post and invitation to the rally states: “We will declare our disapproval of our Fresno City Hall being used to publicly endorse the ‘Pride’ flag.”

It also says that the invocation prayer that Pastor Raygan Baker delivered before the ceremony “was an insult to the one true God.” Keep in mind, these are “Christians” talking here—folks who claim to follow Christ, whose timeless message focused on brotherly love and acceptance of one another.

The Jesus of the Bible never mentioned homesexuality, and he surely never used anyone’s sexuality or sexual orientation as a stumbling block to God’s love. The opposite, actually, is true.

It’s sad that Adventure Church feels so rotten about queer people being validated and celebrated that they have to hold a “press conference” about it.

Pride flags at the queer-affirming community event called “We’re Here.” Photo by Peter Maiden

It’s one thing to hold onto bigoted beliefs as a private church group, but to also be located at the center of a vibrant queer-friendly neighborhood and nightlife scene with those same homophobic beliefs is just offensive. And to think, during the illegal occupation, Adventure Church has repeatedly reassured the concerned community that they love gays and queers wholeheartedly and that they accept them “as Jesus would.”

However, their emergent true colors paint a different reality, one that the community has known about all along. These kinds of Christians are just homophobes wrapped in fancy religiosity.

Which is why we must continue to ensure during every month throughout the year—not just in June—that every American lives free from the discrimination of sexual-based bigotry and can celebrate their own sexuality and identity with pride.

Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer understands this now. He didn’t before, up until last year at the first LGBTQ+ Pride Flag Raising Ceremony, when public opposition to the ceremony by community members influenced the new mayor’s perspective on the matter. This year, he wanted to set the record straight with the festive pro-queer crowd in attendance.

“I wasn’t sure I was gonna be here today,” Mayor Dyer addressed the attendees. “But, first off, I want to start out by saying Welcome…to your City Hall…this is your City Hall.

“And, as a mayor of a very, very diverse city—a very diverse community—I want people to know, I want all of you to know: That you are loved. That people have value.” 

This year’s flag raising ceremony was done in memory and in honor of the life of our community’s dear “gay mayor of Fresno,” Jeffrey Robinson, a respected and beloved LGBTQ+ activist and leader who unexpectedly died at the young age of 60 earlier this year. 

Robinson’s impact and memory in the community will live on in his timeless words: “United we stand, divided we fall. Together we’re going to overcome, together we will resist, together we will love and together we will achieve.” 

Together, let us remember Pride every year, every month and every day.

  • I. smiley G. Calderon

    I. smiley G. Calderon is a Gen X Southern California Chicano now living in the Central Valley. A lifelong educator who spent a career in academia, he believes in building individual and collective human capital through the accessible application of education. Contact him at smileygcalderon@gmail.com.

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