Oakland Pride festival draws couples, families, celebration
on September 5, 2011
Thousands of East Bay residents, gay and straight, celebrated this year’s gay rights triumphs on Sunday at Oakland’s second annual Gay Pride Festival.
“Ever since I was 14 years old, when I came out of the closet, I’ve been proud to be who I am,” said Fremont resident Jesse Alariz, strutting jauntily with a sister and several friends in tow. “This event represents that.”
“It’s good that Oakland has its own Pride celebration,” said Tom Daly, whose relationship with his partner, David Noel Hinojosa is now into its fourth decade. They met in San Francisco, Daly said, but have lived in Oakland for 20 years, and came downtown Sunday to show their support for the city and its gay community.
Thousands of mostly older people walked in the streets on the day, many dressed in conventional street clothes, some in drag. There were performances from gay music groups at stages at the ends of several streets, and occasionally a band member would offer a shout-out to the gay community between sets. But noticeably absent were the signs and political messages that characterized the June New York City Pride event, which was held only two days after the state legislature there legalized same-sex marriage.
A landmark year in gay rights, 2011 also saw the elimination of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the policy that banned openly gay personnel from serving in the military. But while Sunday’s event was decidedly apolitical, the achievements of the year were not lost on attendees.
Daly and Hinojosa were among 18,000 gay couples who married during a brief period in 2008, between the approval of same-sex marriage by the California Supreme Court that June and then five months later the passage of Proposition 8, which banned it. Although the legality of gay marriage was put into question during a Proposition 8’s ensuing court battle, the California Supreme Court upheld the legality of already-completed marriages, like Daly and Hinojosa’s, in 2009.
“I feel great that we got married in that window of time,” Hinojosa said as he glanced at a menu of one of the event’s numerous food stalls. “But I feel awful for all those people that have to wait.”
Hinojosa said he was grateful for the passage of the New York law, and that he believed it would precipitate a national sea change.
“As California and New York go, so do the rest of the country,” he said.
The theme for this year’s event was “We Are Family,” and as she watched her two sons play with ducks in the animal petting zoo at the event’s Family Corner, Oakland resident Felicia Steenhouse said the theme resonated with her as a mother in a committed partnership. “I really do appreciate Oakland,” she said. “I feel we have a supportive community wherever we go.”
The 2010 Census, according to recent published reports, found about 6,400 lesbian couples in the East Bay, including 2,000 in Oakland — the highest proportion of any city in the US.
“It’s great to come here and see families and parents from our kids’ preschool,” Steenhouse said.
Her own family had skipped the San Francisco Pride event earlier this year, she said, because it was less family-oriented than the Oakland event.
Kyla and Jay, new parents from El Cerrito and another female couple, said the We Are Family theme “absolutely resonated” with them.
Kyla said the two women had tried to marry on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall, but that like so many other couples, they missed the window of opportunity. They said they looked forward to the day that same-sex marriage was legalized in California.
“Especially now, having a baby, it matters more than ever,” Jay said as she looked onto her baby daughter, Maren, sleeping on her chest.
The couple said they were glad New York had legalized same sex marriage. But Kyla, who served in the Coast Guard until recently, said she was especially happy when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was lifted.
“At every Pride event until now, I’ve had to avoid the press,” she said. “When we tried to get married, someone wanted an interview, but this is the first time it’s been OK to talk.”
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