Negate the hate

Negate the hate

America Garza, Reporter

The T-shirts and bumper stickers at Bakersfield United in Pride read, “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

And come out they did.

On October 15th, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community came together to celebrate their unique culture during the annual gay pride event at Stramler Park, hosted by the Bakersfield LGBTQ.

Whitney Weddell, chairman of the board of the Bakersfield LGBTQ, explained the significance of the event.

“Freedom. For six hours, you can be who you are, quite comfortably, in the arms of a community that is totally accepting of the diversity of the community we represent. It’s a freedom we never feel any other time in Bakersfield,” Weddell said.

A diverse array of people took advantage of that spirit of freedom as they walked the grounds of Stramler Park during the event. Same-sex couples displayed their affection, individuals expressed their gender identity, and supporters of the gay community all came out without fear of reprisal in an otherwise conservative town.

In many ways, Bakersfield United in Pride 2011 resembled the traditional family carnival. All of the classic carnival food was there. The live entertainment featured every style of music from belly dancing to Broadway musical. There was a designated kids zone, complete with a bounce house and clown. Games and prizes were offered at some booths and raffle tickets were sold at others.

National organizations, like the Human Rights campaign and Parents and Family of Lesbian and Gays, set up booths next to local groups.

According to Weddell, Bakersfield Pride is a uniquely family event. It doesn’t resemble the over-the-top style of festival synonymous with gay pride in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Alison Shafer attended the event with her family. She is a supporter of the Bakersfield College Gay-Straight Association and made the drive from Nevada to visit friends volunteering at Bakersfield Pride. She decided to take advantage of the resources being offered to families of recently “out” individuals, particularly those who are having trouble dealing with their sexuality.

In a society that still holds many taboos about homosexuality, Weddell believes that pride events provide a safe environment for those individuals who feel they have to hide a part of who they are from the world.

“A lot of folks just don’t know freedom here. They’re afraid to tell their neighbors, and they’re afraid people will find out. Our event affords them the opportunity to kind of let their guard down and be among people for whom it’s not going to be an issue,” she said.