Sonoma County Pride festival and parade draw thousands to Santa Rosa

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The Sonoma County Pride Parade and Festival on Saturday brought as many as 5,000 spectators to downtown Santa Rosa, an estimated turnout that signals the event is growing in its second year in the Sonoma County seat after taking place for more than a decade in Guerneville.

Organizers said the total of more than 50 parade entries was twice as many as last year. About 700 people were registered to take part in the parade, said Brian Rogers, vice president of Sonoma County Pride.

“We have double the booths and double the vendors, and at least double the people attending,” said Rogers.

Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Chris Mahurin estimated that the crowd peaked sometime in the afternoon at 3,000 people and that possibly as many as 5,000 attended throughout the day. The parade started at 11 a.m. at Fourth Street and Brookwood Avenue and ended at Old Courthouse Square, where the festival was held between noon and 6 p.m.

“There’s definitely more people here this year than there was last year,” said Mahurin.

Participants and spectators came equipped with rainbow flags and all manner of parasols, with many donning colorful costumes. The day of celebration for the county’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex community featured representatives of Main Street civic life: local businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies.

The parade was a study in contrasts: It started with a Dykes on Bikes rider from San Francisco and ended about an hour later with Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick and soon-to-retire Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder leading the final parts of the procession.

A couple of hours before the parade started, Schreeder convened a brief flag-raising ceremony with Sonoma County Pride representatives in front of the main police station on Sonoma Avenue. A rainbow flag was hoisted on the main flag pole in front of the police station.

The ceremony was organized to show support for the local LGBTQ community, both residents and first responders, said Sgt. Mahurin, an organizer.

Before last year, the event had been held in downtown Guerneville for about 10 years. The parade, now in its 32nd year, was originally held in the downtown Santa Rosa area.

This year, the parade grand marshals were longtime radio broadcaster Pat Kerrigan and Supreme Court marriage equality plaintiff Jim Obergefell. The parade’s honored guest was Rhiannon Jones, 22, the first openly gay Miss Sonoma County.

The event brought together both young and old members of the gay community, with some of the older spectators recalling the many strides made in the past five decades.

Linda Jones, 72, and her wife, Lorraine Segal, 68, said they remembered attending the event back in the early ’90s, a few years after it started.

Jones and Segal said they were married in 2008, when gay marriage was legalized in California. Their union was “upgraded,” they said, in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

The couple called the theme of this year’s pride parade, “Year of Love,” appropriate for the times. They pointed to a political climate in the country that has become more openly hostile in some key ways toward the gay community and other minorities.

“There’s a renewed sense that we’re all in this together,” said Segal. “We need to celebrate and fight back, and we need to fight back in the name of love.”

Saturday’s parade and festival is one of several gay pride events taking place this weekend. On Sunday, Sonoma County Pride hosts a family-oriented event at Santa Rosa’s Juilliard Park. The event, billed as Pride in the Park, runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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