by Jessica Lewis
A crowd sporting an array of rainbow-colored flags gathered ‘round the stage in Chico’s City Plaza, amid a cluster of various organizations Saturday.
A woman, applauding from the gallery, encouraged a girl to give a dollar to a performer on stage – an obviously appreciated reward for Nikita Diamondz, making her drag debut performance. Each performer got their chance to lead the crowd in an exploration and celebration of gender, by proudly showcasing their own concepts of gender during this year’s “Seeds of Change” PRIDE event.
“There was PRIDE and LGBT in Chico before, but the size and scope of how big Chico PRIDE has become is a big deal,” PRIDE event coordinator Alyssa Larson said.
Larson wasn’t immediately able to provide attendance figures, but she said the event’s four days of activities typically attract between 4,000 and 7,000 attendees.
Added Larson: “Visibility is really important. The fact that people in the community now know that there is a place to go, there are resources available to them, there is a place where they can have someone to connect with, is a huge deal.”
While 75 percent of LGBT youth feel that their peers do not have issues with their gender or sexual identity, 91 percent say they still hear negative messages about their identity at school, online, and from peers. There are still ways people in the community can help lessen those negative messages, said Planned Parenthood Senior Education Manager Toni Donovan.
“All sex education should be comprehensive, and part of that includes being inclusive of all genders and sexualities,” Donovan said. “What that means would be staying away from these heteronormative ideals. When doing a lesson in your class, you don’t know if you have an LGBT student in the room. So the idea is, to be inclusive and use gender neutral language at all times. It’s important to talk about gender spectrum and sexuality spectrum so that cisgender and heterosexual people learn about those other individuals and respect them more.
“Most people are afraid of what they don’t know, so if you educate while young they can be brought up to love and respect someone regardless of sexuality.”
The “seeds of change” were planted when the first PRIDE festival was held in Chico on July 21, 1991, just a little over a year before the Stonewall Alliance opened on Sept. 27, 1992. In fewer than 30 years, after opening up many conversations about gender and sexuality, PRIDE has become an anticipated yearly event in Chico. It now spans four days with various events in addition to the downtown festival, and Stonewall has been able to expand enough to provide resources such as free HIV and Hepatitis C testing, free or low-cost counseling, and legal counseling.
“We are a growing, visible presence within the Chico community,” said vendor and safety coordinator Sophia Martinez. “I was born and raised here; I felt like there was no presence growing up. I moved to the Bay Area for eight years and then came back and now there’s a huge presence. I mean, I’m just really astounded by the growth.”
Jessica Lewis is a Chico State journalism major interning for ChicoSol.