A look back: Recognition for Sonoma County Pride was an uphill battle

It was an uphill battle for the LGBTQ community to be recognized in Sonoma County in the late 1980s and early 1990s.|

Considered a gay-friendly destination with an established LGBTQ community, Sonoma County is a place where Pride flags are displayed prominently in downtown plazas, businesses and schools. But the journey for Pride week to be officially recognized was an uphill battle.

It took five years of unsuccessful attempts by LGBTQ activists in the late 1980s and early 1990s before Sonoma County supervisors recognized Pride week.

“That was not a very progressive time here,” said Tina Dungan, 70, co-founder of the Lesbian Archives of Sonoma County.

The first Pride resolution in the county was presented in May 1987 to a couple of supervisors, and it wasn’t included on their agenda. Supervisors refused to pass it in 1988 and again in 1989 with a 4-1 vote against it.

“It was important to the gay and lesbian community to see their own unity and show their strength. There is no doubt that they will grow with this and become more of a force in Sonoma County,” Supervisor Ernie Carpenter said in 1989 following his sole vote in favor of the resolution.

Some supervisors said they voted no because they didn’t think Pride would help the LGBTQ community. Another said they couldn’t “commend” the community “on their sex life,” according to a Press Democrat report.

But the resolution wasn’t about their sex lives; it was about their daily lives, said Magi Fedorka, a leader in the movement who wrote the original Sonoma County Pride resolution in 1987.

“The LGBTQIA community is diverse. Celebrating Pride as a community is an expression of solidarity. It is a commitment renewed annually to work together through differences to achieve greater equity and social justice,” said Fedorka, 62, an organizer of the first Pride picnic at Spring Lake in 1987.

Pride parades and picnics continued to be held, although again in 1990 there weren’t enough county supervisor votes to recognize it.

“So I said, ‘We’re going to the board anyway and we the people of Sonoma County are declaring Pride,’” Fedorka said in an interview.

The LGBTQ community organized politically, and Fedorka said they flexed their political muscle months later in 1990 when state Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican who didn’t support Pride, was unseated by Mike Thompson, a Democrat who attended Sonoma County Pride in its early years.

In 1991, county supervisors voted 2-1 in favor of the Pride resolution, although Fedorka called it an “odd year” because two were gone — one on vacation and one having recently resigned.

Local LGBTQ history buffs point to May 19, 1992, as the day Pride was officially recognized in Sonoma County, with the majority of supervisors voting in favor of it.

The county board’s newest member in 1992, Mike Cale, joined supervisors Carpenter and Tim Smith in the majority vote to adopt the Pride resolution. Earlier in the year, Cale said he probably wasn’t going to support the resolution, but changed his mind in light of “recent civil unrest in Los Angeles and a close reading of the document,” according to a Press Democrat report.

“Our commitment to Pride is our commitment to solidarity that love is love,” Fedorka said. “For me, the only people who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community are those who choose not to support living our lives authentically.”

The LGBTQ history timeline will be on display from 3-8 p.m. June 26 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds during the Rainbow City Concert featuring Todrick Hall.

To register for a June 22 online presentation on Sonoma County LGBTQ+ history by historians Tina Dungan and Shad Reinstein, go to sonomalibrary.org/celebratepride.

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