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Alex McGowen and mom Christina Roark enjoy the Family and Children’s Garden.

Oakland’s Pride festival celebrates the Bay Area’s families and children

on September 15, 2015

Elementary school students Kyoko and Akemi Marcelin spun in circles holding long multi-colored Pride ribbons, dancing across the Family and Children’s Garden at Oakland Pride this Sunday. Just feet away, toddlers were using rope to create huge pop-worthy bubbles and tweens were coaxing their parents to let them try out the teacup ride. The Marcelin sisters stopped to catch their breath. They have two moms, and they smiled as they watched other kids with two moms enter the garden. “Oakland Pride shows free rights for all people, no matter who you love. When you have pride you aren’t afraid to be who you are anymore, because you’re free,” Kyoko said.

The Oakland Pride Parade and Festival drew nearly 50,000 attendees this year, and the Oakland Pride board made a special effort to cater to families with children. The annual event celebrates the culture and diversity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and/or asexual (LGBTQIA) community in Oakland and the East Bay. In 2008, Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan initiated a long-term plan for a yearly event and a volunteer board to run it; this year’s celebration was the sixth annual festival.

Oakland Pride board co-chair Carlos Uribe said a few of the reasons for the large turnout were new attractions like a V.I.P. grandstand on the parade route and more visible advertising through street banners. Uribe also said that the board worked closely with Our Family Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates for equity for LGBTQ families. Thanks to this partnership, Uribe believes many of the children’s areas had better attractions than the previous year and drew more families with kids.

“There is a focus on our families because so many LGBTQ individuals and couples are raising children in Oakland and in the East Bay, and we have so many families of such huge diversity and inclusivity that we want to celebrate,” Uribe said. “Our children’s area is actually a focal point and not an afterthought at our pride celebration.” In addition, he said, it was important to the board to create a safe space for LGBTQIA teens.

The board decided to more than double the size of the Family and Children’s Garden from the previous year after receiving a donation from Kaiser Permanente, and teamed up with Our Family Coalition to plan this space. The garden was a large playground filled with bounce houses, carnival rides, a science booth and even a petting zoo.

Uribe said this area was meant to allow parents and children to have conversations about their sexual orientations and gender identities without being afraid to speak in a public space. Last year, Uribe said, the garden mostly catered to very young children, leaving older children and tweens without a space to connect. This year the board incorporated areas for older children and tweens, including a photo booth and an arts and crafts tent. This also benefited parents of older children, who were now able to talk with other parents about parenting or supporting LGBTQIA children.

Our Family Coalition policy and community director Renata Moreira said that these types of connections are best fostered in a safe space. “The garden allows for a lot of these very organic connections that parents make with each other so they can build the support systems with one another,” Moreira said. “As our kids keep growing we want to keep our families engaged. Our families have grown so much in terms of visibility so we must create family spaces.”

Many other Pride-goers attended the festival to celebrate the recent legalization of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court, while others went to show their support for Black Lives Matter, which advocates for an end to police brutality against African Americans. Many people at Pride wore Black Lives Matter apparel, while others supported Black Trans Lives Matter, which represents transgender women of color.

Christopher Hershey followed behind a police car that was in the Pride parade, showing a sign that said “Black Lives Matter” in order to express his concerns about police brutality. “I’m here because nobody is free until everyone is free,” Hershey said.

Thanks to the legalization of same-sex marriage, the festival also featured a Wedding Pavilion in which local clergy performed ceremonies for anyone with a marriage license from their respective counties.

Though many people were celebrating marriage equality at Pride, advocates continued to remind everyone that there is a still a lot of work to do in regards to LGBTQUIA rights, Uribe said. “The whole LGBT movement is bigger than just marriage so we try to celebrate all the aspects in the LGBT community,” Uribe said. “One thing that differentiates Oakland Pride from other Pride celebrations is the diversity. Folks from all races, classes and ages on the LGBT spectrum are represented here and I think that’s something that’s not the case in some more homogenized cities. That’s one thing we’re really proud of and we try to make sure we include every year.”

Other highlights included a performance on the main stage by singer and reality television personality Michel’le, entrepreneurial booths from local restaurants and businesses, a Latin Stage, a Community Stage and a Womyn’s Stage for artistic performances, and a senior resting area. The festival was packed and no matter where you were on Franklin Street, the sound of upbeat music was audible and the smell of cooking food filled the air. The reverberation of laughter from the Family and Children’s Garden could be heard all the way to the front of the festival.

As Christina Roark watched her child climb through the many bounce houses the garden had to offer, a group of squealing children ran past her towards the front of the line for the pony rides, and a person clad in circus attire approached the ribbon area to assist Kyoko and Akemi in their twirling technique. “I love that there is a safe space for kids to be in and I love seeing all the kids have so much fun here at Oakland Pride,” Roark said.

Kyoko passed on her ribbon to someone new, eager to explore more of the garden. Akemi grinned as she smoothed out her bleach-washed jeans and straightened her sunglasses. “Pride is important because some kids might think they’re the only ones with [LGBTQIA] families, but then they come here and they see other people just like them,” she said.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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