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Supporters of equality for LGBTQ, minority communities join forces in Napa march
NAPA Pride

Supporters of equality for LGBTQ, minority communities join forces in Napa march

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June is when LGBTQ people across the globe celebrate their hard-won civil rights and their decades-long battle against discrimination. But on Sunday, a swelling wave of protests against police violence against people of color caused advocates for sexual and racial minorities to join forces and demonstrate in downtown Napa, together.

Holding aloft rainbow flags and Black Lives Matter signboards – and sometimes placards combining the two symbols of equality – more than 120 chanting marchers took part in Pride Is a Protest, a procession from Napa City Hall through downtown streets to Veterans Memorial Park and back again.

The now-familiar sounds of anti-racist protest rang out as demonstrators strode down School, First and Main streets, but with an added twist resulting from the partnership of the local groups who had put together the march in barely a week – the Rainbow Action Network and the People’s Collective for Change, a grassroots group that has led weekend protests against police brutality and is pushing for law-enforcement reforms in Napa.

“Black lives matter!” organizer Gabriela Fernandez yelled into a microphone, coaxing an answering echo from marchers before she and they changed the slogan to “Black trans lives matter!”, “Black queer lives matter!” and then “Black lesbian lives matter!”

Sprinkled among the dozens of signs in the procession were visual symbols of this partnership against intolerance, including an upraised brown fist superimposed on the six-color rainbow logo. Accompanying the LGBTQ banners of various sizes were versions with black and brown chevrons added to one side.

The march placed an exclamation point on a month that had been marked for an annual slate of celebrations of Napa County’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community on the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising in New York, which is credited with kick-starting the modern gay-rights movement. Many of the festivities, however, never got off the ground after the coronavirus pandemic led the county to shut down virtually all scheduled public gatherings starting in mid-March.

Instead of large-scale LGBTQ celebrations, central Napa has instead seen a succession of protest marches inspired by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, during an arrest by Minneapolis police May 25. When it came time for the Rainbow Action Network to mark Pride month, acknowledging the renewed push for racial equality became the natural thing to do, according to Anne Sutkowi-Hemstreet, co-founder and director of the network.

“By the start of June, what we’d planned for Pride in a celebratory tone just didn’t feel appropriate for this year,” Sutkowi-Hemstreet, a community programs manager for First 5 Napa, said before the Sunday event.

Sprinkled in the crowd were marchers who chose to share the experience with their children to impress lessons of tolerance. “This is an opportunity to engage with the broader community, getting to be with many others who want the same thing,” said Lilea Heine, a Napa mother who arrived with a signboard proclaiming “Pride against Prejudice.” “I want my kids to grow up in a space that feels safe and celebrates everyone in the community.”

When the marchers reached Veterans Memorial Park shortly before noon, the cobblestone median of nearby Main Street became a speaking platform for protest leaders as well as a variety of audience members, including several teenagers discussing their experiences as LGBTQ people.

Theirs and other testimonies were periodically interrupted by passing drivers honking their horns in support, and in one case inching past with a wind-whipped rainbow flag hoisted through the sunroof to the cheers of demonstrators.

Others took the megaphone to urge protesters to turn their support into action, by registering to vote or keeping up pressure on cities to ban dangerous and abusive law enforcement practices. (In addition to pursuing local police reform, Napa protest organizers have supported petitions to reallocate the city police budget, increase awareness of the Juneteenth holiday and remove images of the Ku Klux Klan from mural at Napa’s Riverfront.)

“Every single one of you can make a difference – today, tomorrow, 10 years, 20 years from now,” Elba Gonzalez-Mares, a member of the Napa Valley Unified School District board, told the audience. “People are looking for role models. People are looking for someone who will look out for them.”

Fernandez, a member of the People’s Collective for Change that has organized Napa’s anti-racism protests since May 31, thanked the mask-wearing participants for joining in despite virus-related restrictions that have entered their fourth month.

“You’re all here in the middle of a pandemic,” she told marchers. “People are telling me they still won’t go to restaurants and when I ask why they’ll go to a protest, they say, ‘This is damn important!’ If we don’t show up, people will thing we don’t matter and things will go back to the way it was before.”

You can reach Howard Yune at 707-256-2214 or hyune@napanews.com

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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