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On Saturday, June 22, LGBTQ Connection Napa will put on “It’s a Drag!” the town’s first youth Pride dance and drag show, at the Calistoga Community Center.

The event is free, for young people ages 13 through 20. The event will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. and offer food and nonalcoholic beverages. About 50 people are expected.

Matt Boyadjieff, one of three youth organizers of the event, said he is excited about creating safe space where young people can be themselves.

“We noticed that in Calistoga, youth don’t have a lot of events and activities within the town. We wanted to create a Pride-themed event that was very visible,” said Boyadjieff.

Boyadjieff, a 22-year-old Calistoga resident and 2015 graduate of Calistoga Junior-Senior High School, said the organizers of the Calistoga Youth Leadership Team of LGBTQ Connection Napa have been working since February to find a location, plan decorations, and invite performers from Santa Rosa and Napa.

“We’ve been publicizing the event (in English and Spanish) on LGBTQ Connection Napa’s Facebook page, LGBTQ Connection’s website, and the organization’s Instagram accounts. I made a poster and also flyers that I’ve handed out to friends and family, at LGBTQ Connection’s Santa Rosa office, and at Positive Images (a Santa Rosa-based LGBTQ nonprofit),” said Boyadjieff.

LGBTQ Connection Napa-Sonoma, a nonprofit for the LGBTQ+ community, also worked with Boys & Girls Club and UpValley Family Center sites in Napa County to spread the word.

Ian Stanley Posadas, program director of LGBTQ Connection Napa-Sonoma, said the organization has been interested in having a youth event in Calistoga for a long time.

“The idea was to get youth leaders in Calistoga that are representative of the town and would reach out to their peers in Calistoga. More than half of the Calistoga Youth Leadership Team and LGBTQ Connection Napa leadership are bilingual,” said Stanley Posadas.

Stanley Posadas said Calistoga, like other Up Valley communities, has not received much funding or attention for events like these for years.

“The state decided that they wanted to invest in communities like Calistoga. They provided a special grant from the California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP). This grant came from the Office of Health Equity of the California Department of Public Health,” said Stanley Posadas.

The goal of CRDP is to achieve mental health equity for five priority populations in California, including Latino and LGBTQ+ populations. The event was also funded by donations at fundraisers for LGBTQ Connection Napa-Sonoma.

Eduardo Rivera, program coordinator for LGBTQ Connection, helped the Calistoga Youth Leadership Team organize the event.

“The first two months of organizing this event involved trust building. This taught the organizers how to communicate with each other. We wanted them to have face-to-face contact with one another and embrace conflict. That’s what makes them into effective leaders,” said Rivera.

After the organizers got to know each other, the team focused on contacting entertainers and securing and decorating the event space, Rivera said.

“The success is not only about the event,” he said. “It’s about what we as a team created together.”

Rivera also leads a Calistoga support group for LGBTQ+ teens and works with Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs. GSAs are student-led, school-based clubs that work to eliminate homophobia and transphobia on campuses. There are GSAs at 10 schools in Napa County, including Calistoga Junior-Senior High School.

“Sometimes it’s hard to be visible. We have youth who can’t be visible in their own home. That’s why at the beginning of every support group meeting, we do a check-in. At the end, we do acknowledgements to show what we’re thankful for,” said Rivera.

Rivera, who grew up in Napa Valley and is a graduate of Napa High School, said helping organize “It’s a Drag!” has been a healing experience.

“Growing up as a gay person and an undocumented person, I felt these were two things I couldn’t talk about,” Rivera said. “I got bullied for the way I walked, talked, and held my hands. I didn’t come out until I graduated. The work I do with LGBTQ Connection is a symbiotic relationship. The youth and I learn from each other.”

Rivera said having a youth drag show and Pride dance will expose Calistoga residents to a new experience.

“Calistoga might not be used to having an event like this. They haven’t taken place here before. This event can open the door to further conversations about what’s needed in Calistoga,” said Rivera.

Jenny Ocon is executive director of UpValley Family Centers, which shares an office with LGBTQ Connection Napa at Calistoga Junior-Senior High School.

“We value their partnership and expertise in making sure all young people feel included and welcome,” Ocon said. “We support their events. We think it’s important for young people to have a safe environment to explore and understand their identities, and appreciate the diversity of others.”

Lainey Cronk, unit director of the Calistoga Clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga, said her organization also values LGBTQ Connection and its work in the community.

Craig Wycoff, principal of Calistoga Junior-Senior High School, said having LGBTQ Connection Napa-Sonoma onsite has been a positive experience for the school’s students and staff.

“Eduardo’s Leadership Youth group has been very supportive of all students. I appreciate LGBTQ Connection Napa-Sonoma’s presence on campus,” said Wycoff.

Boyadjieff, who is looking forward to seeing the result of months of work, said the experience taught him “how much more we need out there.”

“Living in Calistoga, I definitely did not have anything to do when I was younger,” he said.

Stanley Posadas said Boyadjieff and other organizers’ realizations have been part of the goal of holding the event.

“I think our youth who have been working on this have been surprised that in transforming their community, they’ve transformed themselves,” said Stanley Posadas. “It’s similar to when Calistoga LGBTQ+ youth designed a float with supporters and peers in the last Calistoga Lighted Tractor Parade. Those who participated became more open and got more support from their community.”

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