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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on June 26th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 17 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 17

PRIDE 2019: Sun staffers cover gay bars, a new LGBTQ group, and drag

By BY SUN STAFF

The Central Coast has a thriving LGBTQ community, so where are all the gay bars?

BY KASEY BUBNASH

As a teen, Rory Uribe fantasized about going to a gay bar or club and finally being able to be unabashedly gay in public. 

Uribe, who uses nonbinary pronouns, has lived in Santa Maria their whole life, and it hasn’t always felt like the most accepting or inclusive place for the LGBTQ population. Though Uribe came out to their parents and friends during high school, they still don’t feel totally accepted in Santa Maria or by their family. 

So Uribe always thought the gay bars in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties would provide that much-needed and missing support system and network. 

“I’ve dreamed of going to a gay bar since I was like, 16,” Uribe told the Sun. “And I was unpleasantly surprised when I turned 21 and found out there aren’t any here.”

The lack of LGBTQ-specific nightlife on the Central Coast is an issue much of the local gay and trans community is forced to work around. Santa Barbara’s once thriving gay club scene dwindled, and eventually completely disappeared, as varying sexual orientations and gender identities became more widely accepted and dating apps became more readily available. 

Those completely safe and inclusive spaces are less of a necessity for the LGBTQ community as a whole now, and that’s positive progress. 

But it’s left the Central Coast without a gay bar in reach—the nearest (according to rumor and Google) are in Ventura, Fresno, and San Jose—and many locals say the safety gay bars and clubs provide is still very much needed, especially in the more conservative portions of the state. 

Uribe, who is now a student at Allan Hancock College, finally made their gay bar dream come true this spring while visiting a friend in San Francisco. It was “a lot,” Uribe said, laughing, but overall it was a great experience, and it’s one that’s missing for young LGBTQ people locally. 

 


GAY CLUB ALCHEMISTS
Daniel Gomez (left) and Frank Dominguez (right) are known for turning typical bars into hugely successful, LGBTQ-inclusive parties. SLOQueerdos will be hosting its annual pink party at the Siren in Morro Bay on July 3, and another Pride party at SLO Brew on July 13.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MATTHEW LALANNE

Like so many other LGBTQ residents in the area and across the nation, Uribe helped start an organization dedicated to giving gay, trans, and queer individuals a safe space to meet up and build support systems. Uribe and other Hancock students revitalized the school’s long idle Queers and Allies Club last year, and the group regularly hosts meetings, coffee meetups, and parties, which Uribe dubbed “gay bashes.” 

Sometimes those events are on campus or in someone’s home, and sometimes they’re at restaurants or bars. When the club goes out, Uribe said they have to be careful about where to go and how open to be. 

“And it would be nice to have a space to go and just know that everyone could accept us,” they said.

That’s an issue a lot of locals run into, including the owners of SLOQueerdos, an organization that puts on monthly drag shows and other LGBTQ-inclusive parties on the Central Coast. 

Co-owner Frank Dominguez initially started SLOQueerdos a few years ago when he moved back to the Central Coast after living in bigger cities for several years. Dominguez grew up in Nipomo and when he returned to the area, it was as if nothing had changed. 

He wanted to spice things up by starting a group that would make it easier for local LGBTQ individuals to meet, and was mulling over the idea one day when he walked into the now closed Metro Brewing Company in San Luis Obispo and just happened to spot two gay couples inside. 

“And I was like, ‘Oh my god, is this a gay bar?’” Dominguez said. 

It wasn’t, but Metro Brewing let Dominguez host several of his first SLOQueerdos parties and drag shows at the bar. There were about 60 people at the first show in October 2016, he said, double made it to the next, and more than 200 attended the third. Since then, SLOQueerdos has hosted successful shows and events across the Central Coast each month and on special occasions. 

But Dominguez said it hasn’t always been easy to find venues. While some local businesses—including SLO Brew and The Siren in Morro Bay—are incredibly supportive, others aren’t. 


MULTIPLE DOPE QUEENS
SLOQueerdos hosts monthly drag shows throughout the Central Coast.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MATTHEW LALANNE

One bar owner told SLOQueerdos that he didn’t want his establishment to be known as a gay bar, Dominguez said. One business in Santa Maria allowed SLOQueerdos to host an event there, but shut down the whole bar and called it a “private event.” 

He’s heard it all, but said business owners typically say they don’t want to “alienate” their other customers. Dominguez said the whole system of bars on the Central Coast and in the nation caters to heterosexual, cisgendered people. If anyone is being alienated, he said, it’s the LGBTQ community. 

Still, Dominguez and his partner—in business and life—Daniel Gomez, who also co-owns SLOQueerdos, agree that opening a gay bar on the Central Coast would be challenging. Rent is costly, liquor licenses are hard to come by, and they questioned whether a gay bar in SLO would have enough consistent business to stay open. 

While gay bars do provide LGBTQ communities with essential social opportunities, Gomez said it’s easier than ever to link up through readily accessible online dating apps like Tinder and Grindr. 

“There’s this whole digital world at your fingertips,” Gomez said. “But at the same time, people do want to dance and stuff like that. I think [online dating] has a huge impact on the gay club scene.” 

“But it’s OK,” Gomez said. “We just make clubs into gay clubs.”

 


HOLDING OUT HOPE
House of Pride and Equality (HOPE) board members and volunteers met in preparation for last year’s Pride festival. HOPE lacks a physical space or a center, so members often meet at Audy Macdonald’s home (pictured). HOPE is hosting Santa Maria’s Pride festival this year on June 29.
FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

Longtime Santa Barbara residents John Chufar and Robert Johns said dating apps have had a noticeable impact on the younger generations of the LGBTQ community. 

Chufar and Johns are married, and they’re both board members at Santa Barbara’s Gay and Lesbian Business Association, a nonprofit that funds scholarships it awards each year to college-bound and vocational students across the county. 

The organization was orgianally created in the ’80s to support gay- and lesbian-owned businesses in the area. As gayness gradually became more widely accepted, so did gay businesses, and that arm of the nonprofit eventually halted its work. The same thing happened with Santa Barbara’s gay nightlife, Chufar and Johns said. 

Johns has lived in Santa Barbara since the ’70s, and said there were about six gay bars in Santa Barbara alone at one time. He misses the dancing scene most. 

“I used to go out six nights a week just for the dancing,” Johns said.  

Some Santa Barbara bars still host drag shows or LGBTQ-specific events. The Wildcat Lounge hosts “gay nights” every Sunday, but Johns said, “who wants to go out on a Sunday?” 

A number of organizations in Santa Barbara also offer LGBTQ-friendly programs and events, such as camping and movie nights, that are becoming more popular social outlets. Those are great, but Chufar and Johns said they’ve noticed that younger kids attending the events spend a lot of time alone on their phones. 

Younger generations are using dating apps to find other gays in town now rather than gay bars, and Chufar and Johns said that’s OK. Those once uniquely safe spaces aren’t as needed in places like Santa Barbara anymore. 

“We’re more or less accepted here,” Chufar said, adding that he and Johns are members of the Santa Barbara Elks Club. 

“If you can imagine that!” Johns said with a laugh. 

But that’s not necessarily true in other, more conservative swaths of the Central Coast, according to representatives of the House of Pride and Equality (HOPE), a Santa Maria-based organization dedicated to creating safe spaces for the local gay and trans community. 

Cee Chavez works with HOPE, and said that while she might occasionaly see openly gay couples in North County, it’s not as predominate or accepted as in South County.  

“It’s not as welcoming here to go out,” Chavez said. “I wouldn’t go out with my girlfriend here and feel the same as I would if I went out in Santa Barbara.”

That gets at the core of why HOPE started a few years ago, according to Audy Macdonald, a founding member of the organization. There just weren’t many spaces for the LGBTQ community to meet up and have fun in Santa Maria, and while bars and clubs might present issues for those struggling with alcohol and addiction issues, HOPE’s monthly meetups are typically held at coffee shops, restaurants, or in Macdonald’s home. 

Booze is typically expected at an after party, though, and HOPE hosts a party and drag show each year after its Pride festival

That almost didn’t even happen last year because it was so difficult to find a willing venue in the Santa Maria Valley. Macdonald said HOPE finally made a connection with the events coordinator at Presqu’ile Winery mere weeks before the show date. 

That wouldn’t be a problem if there was a gay bar somewhere in the area, according to Anthony Loverde, another HOPE official. Loverde said there will always be a need for some kind of LGBTQ safe space because there will always be LGBTQ individuals who are just coming up and out and in need of support. 

It might be tricky to keep a gay bar running in this area, he said, but there has to be a way to do it. 

“I would definitely drink at the establishment daily if someone opened one,” Loverde said. 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be reached at kbubnash@santamariasun.com.


A new group is making the LGBTQ community known in Lompoc

BY ZAC EZZONE


MAKING PROGRESS
The Lompoc Pride Alliance holds monthly meetings to discuss issues affecting the LGBTQ community in Lompoc.
PHOTO COURTESY LOMPOC VALLEY DEMOCRATIC CLUB

Prior to moving to Lompoc to become a pastor at Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ, Jane Quandt came across a video on YouTube made by a senior at Cabrillo High School describing what it was like to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer, in Lompoc. 

“Having looked at that video I decided, ‘Oh there is work to be done here,’” Quandt said. 

After completing her move to Lompoc from a church in Riverside where she was involved with LGBTQ rights, Valley of the Flowers held a meeting open to the public in October 2018 to show the video and start a discussion on how to make Lompoc a safer and more welcoming community, Quandt said. 

At the same time, the Lompoc Valley Democratic Club was working on finding ways to create spaces for younger progressives focused on LGBTQ issues. Club president Lorraine Waldau said she and other club members attended the meeting and spoke with Quandt afterward about how to continue the dialogue from the meeting.


PUBLIC EDUCATION
Noah Wagoner led an introductory workshop on gender identity in June.
PHOTO COURTESY LOMPOC VALLEY DEMOCRATIC CLUB

Quandt started leading an informal organization that would later be called Lompoc Pride Alliance, which held meetings to discuss LGBTQ issues in Lompoc. Although the group was formed by people affiliated with a church and political party, Quandt stresses the group operates separate of both and is inclusive to everybody. 

“This is a nonpartisan, nonfaith-based organization that has its own life now,” Quandt said.

About two or three months ago, Noah Wagoner, who was also at the church meeting where the video was shown, began attending the group’s meetings and eventually took on a more active role.

Wagoner, who is transgender, co-founded a company called The Self Made Men at the time he began transitioning 10 years ago. Through this company, Wagoner began educating, advocating, and mentoring transgender men.


CITY RECOGNITION
Lompoc Pride Alliance worked with Mayor Jenelle Osborne to proclaim June as LGBTQ Pride Month in Lompoc.
PHOTO COURTESY LOMPOC VALLEY DEMOCRATIC CLUB

“Really, it just started with me talking about myself … then it grew to sharing my story and being able to educate about more of the content,” Wagoner said.

After working with his own company, Wagoner began working on LGBTQ diversity and inclusion education training programs throughout the U.S. with an organization in New York. He moved to Lompoc more than four years ago, but didn’t get involved with anything local immediately because he wanted to keep his life at home separate from the work that takes him across the county.

However, that changed last year after he heard the federal policies and rhetoric threatening the rights of the LGBTQ community. That’s when he began searching for something in Lompoc and came across the video showing at Flowers of the Valley. 

The video that spurred the formation of Lompoc Pride Alliance is no longer online. However, the discrimination and concerns raised by students in the video is a point of focus for the group.

Wagoner said that later this year he hopes to reach out to students in Lompoc schools through a climate survey asking questions about things such as what kind of resources students would like to see in the community and how many teachers know the student is part of the LGBTQ community. 


FLAG
Lompoc Pride Alliance members are working to make the LGBTQ community more visible in Lompoc.
PHOTO COURTESY LOMPOC PRIDE ALLIANCE

“I focus on the youth so much, because unlike other marginalized communities ... if I’m part of the LGBTQ community as a youth, it’s likely that my family is not part of it … and it is likely that I’m not going to be able to use them as a resource to navigate that,” Wagoner said.

While efforts to connect with the youth in Lompoc are a key part of future plans, the group is already working on one of its other main priorities. The group held an introductory workshop in conjunction with Wagoner’s business The Acronym Project, which he formed last year to continue his nationwide education training, to teach Lompoc residents about gender identities.

Wagoner said the response was encouraging, with twice the number of people showing up than he anticipated. He said attendees inquired about further details on gender identity that will be covered in a second workshop.

The group is also making progress on one of its other objectives, which is to make the LGBTQ community more visible in Lompoc. The group plans to set up tables with information at community events such as Old Town Market this summer, Quandt said. Additionally, although not directly involving Lompoc Pride Alliance, the Lompoc Valley Democratic Party made a welcome banner for riders of AIDS/LifeCycle, which makes its way through Lompoc every year on its seven-day ride to raise money for AIDS health care.


INCOMING CYCLISTS
Members of the Lompoc Valley Democratic Club welcomed AIDS/LifeCycle riders as they made their way into Lompoc.
PHOTO COURTESY LOMPOC VALLEY DEMOCRATIC CLUB

Recently, Lompoc Pride Alliance approached the city about making a proclamation recognizing June as LGBTQ Pride Month. Mayor Jenelle Osborne read the proclamation at the June 4 City Council meeting, where she said it was the first time the city had made the proclamation.

“This is something that is of personal importance to me,” Osborne said. “I have family members who are transgender, I have family members who are gay.”

Following the proclamation, Quandt and Wagoner spoke about the group and the introductory workshop. Wagoner thanked Osborne for the proclamation and discussed the importance of increasing the visibility of the LGBTQ community in Lompoc.

“It’s so hard to stand up and use your voice when your voice is silenced and when it goes unheard,” Wagoner said. “And if there’s anyone wondering if there are LGBTQ folks living in Lompoc: Can you hear us now?” 

Reach Staff Writer Zac Ezzone at zezzone@santamariasun.com.


There ain’t no Pride party like an after party

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM


CELEBRATE
Drag queens are synonymous with the LGBTQ civil rights movement, and you can join the party at Presqu’ile and support the movement by purchasing a ticket. All proceeds go to the House of Pride and Equality for the annual Pride celebration.
PHOTO BY ANGELINA LUCIANA PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF SANTAMARIAPRIDE.COM

The freedom to be permeates every drag show I’ve ever attended. There’s something special about watching someone jumping and running down a stage in four- to five-inch heels, twirling around doused in glitter with perfectly coiffed wigs and piles of expertly contoured makeup. 

If you’ve never seen a drag queen cartwheel into the splits in heels that any mortal would be afraid to wear, you haven’t truly lived. It’s an experience. Being a drag queen isn’t so much an identity, as it is a performance. Each queen has their own act, their own talents that they showcase, according to Anthony Loverde with the House of Pride and Equality (HOPE) in Santa Maria. Comedy, vocals, dancing—maybe a little gymnastics. 

“I think they push the boundaries of what we expect, of what society expects of us. It’s inspiring to see someone have the confidence to go out and do this incredible show,” Loverde said. “I would definitely fall down in those heels ... and when you see them pull it off, it’s just amazing. They’re just strutting around.” 


Celebrate Stonewall
This year’s annual Pride celebration in Santa Maria is also the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising that invigorated the LGTBQ civil rights movement. The Pride Celebration and Resource fair will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the 201 Town Center West parking lot on June 29. The Pride After Party starts at 6 p.m. at Presqu’ile Winery. Buy your ticket at santamariapride.org. And remember: They will sell out.

You can watch local queens strut their stuff during the Pride After Party at 6 p.m. on June 29 at Presqu’ile Winery for less than $40, while tickets last (it sold out last year). The party, which will feature drag queens, poi dancers, a DJ, food trucks, and wine, follows Santa Maria’s third annual Pride Celebration and Resource Fair. Pride 2019 runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the 201 Town Center West parking lot on Broadway and Main streets, and the money generated through the after party helps fund the HOPE-hosted celebration. 

The history of drag is tied in with that of the LGBTQ movement, and this year is extra special as it’s the 50th anniversary of the uprising at the Stonewall Inn bar in New York City, which was a turning point in the LGBTQ civil rights movement—and also the reason Pride is celebrated in June. New York City policemen raided Stonewall in the early morning on June 28, 1969. As police arrested the bar’s patrons and employees, a crowd gathered in the street growing increasingly angry, according to the National Park Service, and eventually led to six days of demonstrations and conflict with law enforcement. Former President Barack Obama declared Stonewall a national monument in 2016. The events that took place at Stonewall became a rallying cry for the movement. 

“If you go back to even that time of rising up and defending our rights and our freedoms, it was drag queens that led that,” Loverde said. “Really when it comes to drag queens or drag shows ... it’s really just to highlight differences and how different we really are.” 


AFTER PARTY
Catch a drag show at the Pride After Party on June 29 at 6 p.m. at Presqu’ile Winery. The winery hosted the first annual after party last year.
PHOTO BY ANGELINA LUCIANA PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF SANTAMARIAPRIDE.COM

It’s important to share that experience in a community like Santa Maria, Loverde said. He moved to the area last year from Little Rock, Arkansas. Even in the South, he said, there is a well-established and “out” LGBTQ community. There were five gay bars in Little Rock, alone, he said—although, the city was only on its third or fourth pride celebration. 

“Every community is different, but it doesn’t really matter,” Loverde said. “You come out here, and it’s like, ‘Do gays exist here?’”

Eventually, of course, Loverde said, you realize that they do. It’s just a matter of connecting them, of helping to build a community so that people realize they’re not alone. That’s why an organization like HOPE exists, hosting monthly meetings and events like Pride. For people like Loverde, it’s a fun way to connect with his community. For others, that kind of connection could be a necessity, especially for the younger generation, he said.

“The suicide rate for teenagers who are transgender has skyrocketed. That’s what I keep in mind when I try to do these things,” Loverde said. “It’s fun for us, but there are people out there who are struggling and need to see that others exist.” 

Contact Editor Camillia Lanham at clanham@santamariasun.com.




Weekly Poll
Guadalupe is in the midst of new development, but is that a good thing?

No. The new homes will expand the town too much and run the small-town vibe.
No. Commercial development will follow and destroy all the local businesses.
Yes. The town can't survive another economic downturn without more business and residents in town.
Yes, but the town has to steer development toward tourism and the hospitality industry.

| Poll Results