//Pride Marches On

Pride Marches On

By Dave Fountinelle | dave@fresnoflyer.com

Two years ago, Fresno Rainbow Pride turned 30. Unfortunately, the parade and festival were put on hold due to COVID lockdowns and restrictions on social gatherings. Instead, it was replaced with virtual events, drive-in performances, and Zoom parties. When the Flyer spoke with Fresno Rainbow Pride founder and unofficial “Gay Mayor of Fresno” Jeffery Robinson last year, the setback did not diminish his excitement and optimism.

“Pride is so much more than just the parade and partying. It’s a spiritual recharge,” Robinson said. “For many people in the community, it’s a rare opportunity to express who they truly are without fear or judgment and interact with others who share the same experiences.”

Guided by that sentiment, the 2020 and 2021 Pride celebrations embraced social media, YouTube, and virtual technology like never before to continue the 30-year tradition of providing Fresno’s LGBTQ+ community and allies a place to come together, support each other, and get that much-needed spiritual recharge. And while the Virtual Pride events were a huge success, Robinson eagerly anticipated the return of the traditional parade and festival. 

“I can tell you this,” Robinson beamed, “when we can finally get together in person again, it’s going to be an absolute blowout!”

Sadly, it would be a celebration that Robinson wouldn’t get to see. Jeffery Robinson tragically and unexpectedly passed away in March. His death shook the community and left Fresno Rainbow Pride without its beloved founder and captain of the ship. However, in a true testament to Robinson’s leadership, the festival committee rallied together to do what he would have wanted them to – make sure the show still went on.

Tracie Cisneros is the Volunteer Coordinator for Fresno Rainbow Pride. Less than an hour after hearing the news of Robinson’s passing, she and the rest of the committee were sitting in a room together, collecting their thoughts, consoling each other, and strategizing. 

“There was no way we were going to let Jeffery or the community down by letting any part of the festival fall to the wayside,” Cisneros said, adding, “Jeffery would have been very disappointed in us if we didn’t keep our focus.”

While Robinson could no longer be with his team physically, his presence was still felt by everyone at Fresno Rainbow Pride. His strength and spirit inspired the team to carry on with renewed vigor. The obvious first decision was to make this year’s festival a celebration of Robinson’s life and legacy. 

“We have decided to make Jeffery a grand marshal in our parade this year. We are foregoing the usual grand marshal selection process and have decided instead to choose Jeffery and several other community activists and leaders who we lost in the last two years,” Cisneros explains.

In addition to Robinson, Fresno Rainbow Pride will honor Susan Kuhn, Zoyer Zyndel, Patty Colucci, Toni Harrison, Mark McKay, Andrew Strambi, and Ron and Jerry Hendrix. They made a difference and helped create safe and welcoming spaces for the Central Valley’s LGBTQ+ community.

This year’s attendees will see some significant changes in the look and layout of the festival events. The parade will still take place on Olive Ave, as it always has. However, the festival has outgrown its previous spot close to the parade route. So it is moving to a new location at Fresno City College. This new space at the college will be bigger and filled with much more entertainment, food vendors, and booths than ever before. Live music, DJs, drag performers, a beer garden, and some of the best food in the valley will be there. Along with the larger space comes grassy and shady areas and lots of open space for people to get together, relax, and enjoy the day. 

The committee also wanted to ensure attendees would have no problem getting from the parade to the festival area. So they partnered up with Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission to provide shuttle buses between locations. These buses will run regularly throughout the day, shuttling visitors from the parade site to Fresno City College and back again if necessary.

Having a new, bigger location to fit even more food, vendors, and entertainment couldn’t come at a better time. After two years of Zoom parties and virtual events, the turnout is expected to be bigger than ever. And a bigger than ever celebration means the need for volunteers in all areas has never been greater. 

“Unfortunately, the two-year gap – as well as ongoing concerns about COVID – may have cost us some folks. But we’ve gained some fresh faces too,“ Cisneros observed. “We definitely still need a lot of volunteers.” 

One of Robinson’s founding principles for Fresno Rainbow Pride was a commitment to community outreach and volunteerism, and it’s one that Cisneros says they’re still firmly focused on. Volunteer recruitment is ongoing, and they plan to increase their outreach to spread the word even more over the coming weeks. Currently, their greatest need is for volunteers to help with setting up, tearing down, parade route maintenance, and cleanup. 

Fresno Rainbow Pride’s parade and festival committee hold their meetings every Monday at 6:30 PM at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, located at 2101 Fruit St in Fresno. In addition, they conduct a hybrid meeting so people can join through Zoom. They are always searching for new faces with fresh ideas and contacts that they may not have already made in the community. For more information about Fresno Rainbow Pride, including ways to volunteer services or donate resources, visit their website: www.fresnorainbowpride.com. Anyone interested in volunteering can also email Tracie Cisneros at tracie.fresnorainbowpride@gmail.com.

Robinson’s work in community outreach was perhaps most focused on connecting with LGBTQ+ youth. He was committed to ensuring that all LGBTQ+ youth in the Central Valley had a space where they could feel safe, welcome, and free from judgment. This focus resonates particularly strongly with Cisneros.

“As an ally and as a mother of a rainbow child, my hope for Fresno Rainbow Pride, now and in our future, is to maintain our focus on the youth in our community,” Cisneros relates. “Bringing them closer to the organization and exposing them to the work that it takes to make all of this happen. In doing so, I would hope to educate them about the struggle and the fights that had to be won so that they could be here at this moment.”

It was his belief in finding the strength as a community to come together and face any adversity head-on that perhaps best defines Robinson’s legacy. In his parting words ahead of last year’s Virtual Pride, when asked about COVID restrictions creating yet another obstacle to celebrating Pride. Robinson stated matter-of-factly, “This is what we do. We adapt. We overcome. We take whatever life throws at us, and we come back stronger than ever because we do it together.”

In his words, “Our strength is in each other. Celebrating the power of inclusion and acceptance – that’s what Pride is all about.”