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Last-minute save for Guerneville's Pride Parade


Rainbow flags will fly high in the streets of Guerneville next week in preparation for LGBT pride festivities that begin Friday and run through the weekend, continuing an intermittent two-decade tradition in Sonoma County thanks to some late-season scrambling.

The centerpiece of the three-day celebration is a Sunday, June 1, morning pride parade down Guerneville's Main Street that almost didn't happen when previous sponsors weren't able to fund and coordinate the event this year.

But members of an ad hoc group that jumped in to rescue the parade and celebration with seven weeks notice said they couldn't let pride season go by without local recognition of the gains and the challenges still facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community that is so strongly represented in Sonoma County.

Though often associated with flamboyant costumery and floats, LGBT pride has serious historic and cultural significance for a group that continues to seek acceptance around the world.

"The importance of pride is it's an affirmation and acknowledgment of who we are as a community," said Petaluma resident Kevin Jones, who is helping to organize the event.

"We want it to happen every year," said Chuck Ramsey of Monte Rio.

LGBT Pride celebrations held across the nation each June evolved from the June 1969 Stonewall riots that erupted when police raided a gay bar in Manhattan and inadvertently help launch a new civil rights movement.

They provide a stage for LGBT people and others to condemn discrimination, exclusion and isolation, and find strength in solidarity, organizers said.

"People are still being assaulted for being gay and being transgendered," said Mary Agneberg, another organizer. "To me, it (LGBT pride) is outreach to make people understand who we are and why it's so important, that we really need to go on until we're not threatened."

This is the first Sonoma County pride event since the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 paved the way for the resumption of same-sex marriage in California, creating a reason to celebrate.

San Francisco, which was among four U.S. cities to host parades on the first anniversary of Stonewall, held its 2013 annual blowout and parade days after the high court's overruling state and federal provisions outlawing same-sex marriage.

But Sonoma County's parade, always the first weekend in June, had come and gone already. So this year marks an occasion to be mindful of a profound advance for same-sex couples, though not at the exclusion of what still needs to be done to achieve equality, Sonoma County Pride Committee Chairman Stephen Zollman said.

There is even an opportunity for couples with marriage licenses to be married during the Sunday festival, which includes a commitment ceremony for those who seek marriage or simply a more formal dedication of their relationship.

"It's a big thing," said Rodger Jensen, who will serve as parade grand marshal, along with Sebastopol Mayor Robert Jacob and Cloverdale Carol Russell.

Sonoma County has hosted parades going back at least 20 years, organized by different non-profit sponsors.

For 14 years it was held in Santa Rosa near Santa Rosa Junior College, until the sponsoring agency, Positive Images, lost its nonprofit status in 2004. Several festivals were held annually through the following years to maintain a presence for Sonoma County Pride.

Then in 2009, the Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence reinitiated annual parades in Guerneville, hosting them for the next five years.

Agneberg, who goes by Sister Scarlet Billows in the order, said the roughly $20,000 annually and the enormous commitment of time and resources devoted by the sisters put at risk other charitable work.

Another organization, Napa-based LGBTQ Connection, looked at taking the event over, perhaps putting a parade on in Santa Rosa again, but it just wasn't feasible, program director Ian Stanley said.

When locals learned there might be no pride this year, they started meeting weekly in April, buoyed by the Russian River Chamber of Commerce's decision to serve as sponsor.

"I think it's really great that this group has stepped in this year to do it," Stanley said. "Otherwise, it wouldn't be happening."

"It's so important for us to be able to gather," Jensen said, "and we thought a loss of this parade is just a lot of disappointment for a lot of people.

"You've got to realize that a lot of people who don't come out, come out. They come out to be proud, and they come out to celebrate. And they come out to be part of a community," Jensen said. "This has a really big meaning, and I'm so glad that we were able to save it."

Local merchants, restaurants and hotels are offering a variety of welcoming receptions, specials and parties to open the weekend on Friday evening and on Saturday.

The parade will be at 11 a.m. Sunday, followed by a Pride Village and festival in the Guerneville Plaza from noon to 3 p.m. A 2 p.m. commitment and wedding ceremony will be held at Bucks River Mill Dinner Theater. The Rio Nido Roadhouse is hosting a family pool party from noon to 4 p.m. A 7 p.m. Interfaith Service is planned at Thanksgiving Lutheran Church on Fulton Road in Santa Rosa.

More information is available at www.sonomacountypride.com.

(You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.)