Rainbow flags, posters emblazoned with the word “pride” and beaded necklaces and bracelets in every color were on proud display Saturday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Park in Coachella for the first east valley LGBTQ Pride Festival.
As a crowd of about 100 supporters gathered in front of a stage at the north end of the park to begin a march around downtown Coachella, an organizer shouted “Today, May 6, 2017, marks the day we will walk as who we are.”
Chanting “Si se puede” – a motto originating from the farm workers movement led by Cesar Chavez in the 1970s, which roughly translates to “Yes, it can be done” – the group slowly made its way around the park, waving flags and signs.
The group was mostly made up of young people from the east valley who want to change the typically conservative Hispanic culture that shies away from talking about sex and sexuality.
“I’ve always felt the west valley was where you could live your life and live free. Whereas here it was not the safest thing to do,” said Paulina Angel, executive director of the Trans Community Project.
Angel, who is transgender and grew up in and still lives in Indio, said “older traditions” persist in the east end of the valley, which leads to bullying and a limitation of LGBTQ rights.
“We could not be out and proud in the east valley,” she said.
The pride festival is an attempt to begin bringing more resources to the east end of the valley and to begin changing the narrative from within, said Sahara Huazano, a coordinator with Building Healthy Communities who helped organize the event.
People need to be comfortable talking about identity and equity, and it starts with education, Huazano said.
Booths representing LGBTQ organizations from Palm Springs, San Diego, Imperial and elsewhere in Southern California were set up throughout the park distributing information. The goal is to bring more resources permanently to the east end of the valley, Huazano said.
And the community needs it.
With the help of Building Healthy Communities students from Desert Mirage High School and Coachella Valley High School surveyed more than 600 people aged 14-24 and found that one in 10 identified as LGBTQ. Many said they receive more support from friends than parents or even teachers and that there aren’t enough resources for them in the area.
Liliana Vallejo, 18, was one of the students who helped with the survey.
“It’s important because as generations go by people should be more about to learn to be accepting instead of denying someone for being themself,” Vallejo said. “At the end of the day someone’s sexuality doesn’t define them. It’s their character.”
A small altar set up in the park paid tribute to prominent LGBTQ Latinos and other pioneers of the LGBTQ rights movement who lost their lives like Harvey Milk and the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.
One photo on the altar, which was decorated in brightly colored paper flowers, was of Juan Ceballos, a 20-year-old College of the Desert student who was shot and killed outside his home in 2014. Prosecutors charged the suspect with a hate crime for killing Ceballos because he was gay.
At the time of Ceballos’ death, the community was largely silent on the issue. Angel said there is still a “long ways to go” to secure rights for transgender people and LGBTQ people of color, but she is hopeful progress is being made.
“I hope to finally see this side of the valley become totally accepting of the community and us getting to the point where it’s not Palm Springs pride or east valley pride – it’s Coachella Valley pride,” Angel said.