The grey color of the sidewalks slowly as people crowded to watch marchers paint Pacific Avenue with every color of the rainbow. Whether it was the rumbling of the Dykes on Bykes’ motorcycles or the chanting of the gender neutral Cheer San Francisco, the crowd of families and friends met the parade participants with the waving of their rainbow flags, warm smiles and a thunder of claps.
The 40th annual Santa Cruz Pride Parade and Festival, which was themed “Pride Marches On — Celebrating 40 Years of Trailblazers,” was held on Sunday by the Diversity Center — an organization striving to enhance the lives of the LGBTQ community through fostering a society free of prejudice, hatred and fear.
The streets filled with over 7,000 attendees looking to watch the parade and partake in the subsequent festival. Pacific Avenue was lined with booths belonging to LGBTQ-inspired organizations like Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Queer Youth Task Force and STRANGE, a support program for LGBTQ youth and their allies.
“For 40 years we’ve been having this gathering and it’s really incredible to see how [Pride] has evolved. Forty years ago, it took so much courage for people to get together and be out,” said Diversity Center executive director Sharon Papo. “They were met with horrible name calling and people threw garbage at them and it was really a brave act. We’re celebrating how far we’ve come.”
Papo said this year, Santa Cruz Pride was not only a time to come together and celebrate how far the LGBTQ community has come — it was a time to honor the people who helped further the acceptance of the local LGBTQ community.
“This year we really wanted to make sure we remembered where we came from and I’m just so grateful to hear these stories and to know whose shoulders I stand upon,” Papo said. “It’s important to know our history because, as hard as it is for so many young people coming out today, it was 50 times as hard 40 years ago, so it’s a blessing to celebrate our elders.”
The theme was chosen to pay homage to the first 200 people who gathered in San Lorenzo Park to celebrate the first Santa Cruz Gay Pride in 1975, according to the Diversity Center’s website. To recognize the work of Santa Cruz’s trailblazers, the Diversity Center awarded them with Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Among the recipients was Maurice “Mo” Carrillo, 70, who now dedicates his time to supporting individuals living with HIV and AIDS through volunteer activities and fundraising for the Santa Cruz AIDS Project (SCAP).
Though Carrillo has been openly gay for the last 27 years, he said he remembers how different the present Pride Parade and Festival was compared to the first time he attended.
“I would secretly go and sit under a tree and watch it go by and hope no one saw me,” Carrillo said. “Now, I’m out and proud, so it’s a fun and exciting thing to see that everyone is so out and open when it was not so in my time.”
While this year’s Santa Cruz Pride Parade and Festival recognized the LGBTQ elders of the community, people of all ages attended the event and enjoyed the afternoon of festivities — including Cabrillo Community College graduate and four-time Pride attendee, Hilary Lee.
Lee said she was touched to see all the marchers and support — especially the Suicide Prevention Service march, which raised awareness about the fact that suicide is something that often affects the LGBTQ community.
“It’s a great community event because it brings the community together and shows support, pride, laughter, dancing, music and overall, love,” Lee said. “Without love and support, we can’t survive.”
Barbara Chambers, an avid attendee of Pride, said the event is a time to support the LGBTQ community and have a fun party on the streets. She said Pride makes positive changes in the community in two significant ways.
“One is visibility to the community so they can see us,” Chambers said. “Number two is [that] pride is the opposite of the word shame and this bolsters our own self-confidence and our feelings of worth and value as human beings, which have historically been trampled on a bit. That’s the whole point.”
As a heavily involved member of Santa Cruz’s LGBTQ community, Carrillo commended the youth of today for coming out and being proud of who they are. He said it is important to share your story of coming out and join others who are proud of their identity.
“[Pride] shows the rest of the community that there is a community of gay people here who are out and proud and are really contributing to everyday life and that we’re no different than they are,” Carrillo said. “We’re all here and we’re all sharing the same space and we should be doing it in a peaceful and loving way.”