//“We’re all in this together.”

“We’re all in this together.”

Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade and Festival 2019

By Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

“United we stand, divided we fall. Together we’re going to overcome, together we will resist, together we will love, and together, we will achieve.”

Jeffery Robinson, Co-Chair, and CEO of Rainbow Pride Parade’s parent organization Community Link, encapsulates the spirit in the theme behind the upcoming 29th annual LGBTQ Pride Parade and Festival: ‘2Gether.’

“We realized that the secret really is that we do this together with our friends, family, neighbors, and allies,” shares Robinson.

It’s a Wednesday evening, and the planning committee spans an entire conference room at the back of Common Space in downtown Fresno. Three pages of an agenda are passed around the room as more and more community members file around the ‘U’ shaped layout of tables; there’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s been going all year round.

The theme ‘2Gether’ was revealed on the heels of last year’s conclusion of ‘Raising the Bar’ complete with monthly incarnations. In November it was ‘2Gether We Vote’ and ‘2Gether We Give Thanks,’ December was ‘2Gether We Celebrate,’ February with ‘2Gether We Love,’ and the current sub-theme, ‘2Gether We Werk’ (a RuPaul’s Drag Race spin) Under these monikers, the community can engage, support, and connect together in a unifying enthusiasm of Pride.

Where previous years saw a January – June workflow in planning the parade and festival, things have graduated into a continuous and ongoing effort. The evolution of Fresno Rainbow Pride has grown beyond the parade and festival into a monumental push to record and archive the Valley’s LGBTQ history.

Last year’s theme of ‘Raising the Bar’ celebrated the first real community centers in the LGBTQ world: the bars. Fresno Rainbow Pride put the spotlight on bar owners, past and present, as a reflection to how far the community has come. Gay bars were the first place to welcome an ‘out’ person without the presence of fear or primitive social constructs that labeled LGBTQ individuals as less than human. More than bars, these establishments became beacons of hope.

Robinson quickly recognized the lack of documentation in Fresno and the Central Valley of queer-centric bars and put into motion a project to rectify that. Under the direction of Fresno State Associate Professor, Katherine Fobear, they began collecting oral interviews with key members of the community who worked, tended, or owned the bars throughout the years. Now, inspired by the stories and momentum the project has received, Fresno Rainbow Pride has expanded their work to capture queer history in its entirety as it relates to the Central Valley.

Dubbed ‘Qistory,’ the project seeks to create collections that correlate to a theme i.e., the bars mentioned above, time frames, or related to specific organizations such as the Imperial Dove Court, for example. That will ultimately live on in the archives of Fresno State’s Henry Madden Library. One of the largest collections, so far, is the Oral History project.

Members of the Fresno Rainbow Pride were recently trained by the ‘Lavender Effect’ – a spinoff group inspired by the Shoah Foundation which interviewed and recorded testimonies of survivors of the Holocaust. The Lavender Effect is a project that is recording the life stories of elderly gay people before the world loses their unique voices altogether. The twenty individuals trained by this group are set to interview a growing list of sixty people narrating their stories and experiences within the local LGBTQ community.

There are hopes that a digital library of interviews will eventually be established so that the oral histories are available online to anyone in the world.

“[Whether] you’re in Alabama, Dos Palos California, Tel Aviv, London, or Moscow, you [could] pull a story and listen to a 93-year-old lesbian who sued the federal government to overturn her dishonorable discharge in the 1950s during the ‘Lavender Scare’ and how she won her battle and now her dog tags, uniform, and discharge paperwork is enshrined in the Smithsonian Institute,” shares Robinson.

The stories will serve the collective goal of documenting and archiving – in one place – the fight, struggles, accomplishments, and overall journey as it has endured within this community throughout the decades in a way that LGBTQ people have never experienced. It’ll be a compilation of stories from those who have either paved the way, were present during significant shifts in history, as well as those who weren’t initially sure they had a story worth telling.

A personal friend of Robinson’s who is in her 90s is a perfect example of a narrator who felt she didn’t have anything to contribute to the project but whose anecdotes were valuable additions. She came out in a time when LGBTQ people had something called ‘Beards’ in the community.

“A gay man would have a woman that was like a phony wife to pretend they were heterosexual. Well, she hung out with a gentleman here in Fresno whose ‘Beard’ was country star, Buck Owen’s, lesbian sister. And they hung out in Bakersfield, in the bars out there,” explains Robinson.

Stories that don’t feel overtly memorial or critical to the LGBTQ history on its surface are still incredibly important to record. It is the experiences such as this one that not only describe the steps in a difficult journey to equality and acceptance, but it also helps to build a bridge between the generations. Queer history is not only fractured in its documentation, but up until the birth of ‘Qistory,’ wholly nonexistent for the Central Valley – the youth will now have a ‘center’ from which it can learn where the community has been and discover ways to pick up the torch and carry it forward when the time comes.

The Oral History Project, as large as it’s shaping up to be, is still only one piece in a much larger puzzle. Over the years, Robinson has been collecting various artifacts connecting to the local queer history – things he affectionately calls “garbage people didn’t want anymore.” His collection includes items such as fliers, posters, ashtrays, matchbook covers, ticket stubs, programs, t-shirts, pictures, meeting minutes, financial reports … “anything and everything that was related to our community.”

A multi-sensory presentation of queer history is scheduled to go on exhibit in the grand, two-story-tall Elliptical Room of the Henry Madden Library at Fresno State from October 2020 to January 2021. The items above along with radio programming, video from past Pride parades, and the impressive 100ft ‘Meet in the Middle’ banner that once hung in front of City Hall will be on display.

The massive undertaking of the Qistory project – the archives, exhibit, and digital library – will be the culmination of community members and various organizations working hand in hand.

“If you think about it, we’re all in this together,” expresses Robinson.

Inspired by support and excitement behind the project, Robinson wants to include a ‘Pop-Up History’ booth at the festival with a theme all its own: Pride pre-1991, which was the year Fresno put on its first Pride parade.

“We want to capture the history of what people did when Pride first started in the 70s, through and up to 1991,” says Robinson.

A large portion of Fresno’s queer history is the journey to visibility, which didn’t occur until 1991 – Pride, as a sense of spirit, was still a massive part of the community long before the parades and festivals were established here. Queer people celebrated what they could in a much more conservative time in a relatively restrictive city, and that took on many different forms.

On May 14, at Tacos Marquitos, Fresno Rainbow Pride will host what they call a ‘Community Convening’ welcoming folks to come in for “organic, spontaneous sharing,” about the years leading up to the first Pride Parade. Any items and stories volunteered by the community members who attend will be on display at the Qistory booth.

“We’re [also] going to give people a chance to give a sound bite or tell a little bit of a story – and we’re going to record it right at Pride,” Robinson shared.

Event goers will have an opportunity to share their experiences, whether it’s about attending Pride or regarding any involvement within the community, and have their stories potentially added to the Qistory project. Some may even hear their voices in the promos for next year’s 30th anniversary Pride.

Fresno’s Rainbow Pride Parade and Festival will also see expansions to its entertainment options. Riot pop band Fatty Cakes and the Puff Pastries, a local “musical grrrl gang” reminiscent of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, will play live all day in the Pride Lounge. Unison has partnered with Royal Jelly to feature new and young DJs and MCs to perform. And carnival style circus acts, such as acrobatic silk performers and stilt walkers, are scheduled to be on display.

FAB Fresno, the LGBTQ nightclub located in the Tower District, is also planning to host premiere drag performers from well-known drag troupes such as the likes of Ru Paul’s Drag Race or Dragula.

The parade is free to watch and begins at 10 AM on June 1st in the Tower District starting at Palm and ending at Maroa Ave on Olive. The festival starts just after the parade ends, is only $5 to enter, and lasts until 3 PM. The festival area will also have a children’s area with bounce houses as well as activities for those in the teen community.

Booths are available until May 15, but floats are accepted all the way until the start of the parade. Space at the end of the line is always allocated to any last-minute arrivals every year. And volunteers are welcome to join the fun at any stage. Contact, forms, and general information can be found at FresnoRainbowPride.com