Conejo Valley hosts first pride festival

Thousand Oaks celebrates LGBTQ+ community

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Rainbows, music and story time with drag queens.

Conejo Valley hosted its first LGBTQ+ pride festival at the Civic Arts Plaza Sept. 22. Inspired by the results of the 2016 election, Founder and Board Chair member of the Conejo Valley LGBTQ+ Pride group, Narissa Petchumrus, brought the idea of a pride festival to Conejo Valley.

“The election inspired a local resistance,” Petchumrus said.

The pride organization’s mission statement is “Creating Community Through Visibility.” One of the organizers’ main goals are to introduce like-minded people to their group. According to Petchumrus, they are hoping to create “a vibrant community we have so long been denied.”

According to LGBTQ+ community members in Conejo Valley, there hasn’t always been a healthy environment. Pride members attribute it to a lack of acknowledgement.

“It’s feeling so isolated because you don’t see anything that celebrates LGBT values or people or any kind of recognition,” marketing chair Kendra Mellinger said.

Community response to the event has been largely positive, despite the opinions of some local politicians. Over 80 volunteers signed up to help. Many local business and organizations also stepped up to support the event.

“After meeting [Petchumrus], we wanted to show our support, being that it is [Conejo Valley’s] first pride event,” Audie Macdonald said. Macdonald is the secretary of the House of Pride and Equality, a local LGBTQ+ activist organization.

A central aspect of the event advertised to the community was that it was family-oriented and accessible for all ages. The festival had a kids’ corner, which offered face painting, arts and crafts and story time with a drag queen.

“Acceptance starts within the youth,” Petchumrus said.

The event included booths from many activist organizations, including the National Suicide Prevention Organization. Their aim was to let the community know that there are resources available for people that may be struggling to identify and understand their sexual orientation, since LGBTQ+ individuals are at a higher risk for suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Conejo Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship held a clothing drive at the festival, specifically for transgender teenagers who do not have access to clothing that matches their gender preferences.

The event’s entertainment included musical performances from drag queen Alison Sideshow, singer and inspirational speaker Sade Champagne, and the Trans Chorus Los Angeles. There were art showcases and clothing sale booths. A wide variety of food included a rainbow bake sale, various food trucks and ice cream.

Students from the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at Oak Park High School also attended the festival. Senior and club Vice President Fiona Raab said her favorite part of the event was watching slam poetry performed by either genderqueer or transgender participants who “talked about their experience through art.”

Raab attended her first Californian pride event in West Hollywood after she moved here from North Carolina in 2017. To her, the highlight of pride festivities are the LGBTQ+ themed merchandise.

“Gays are all about the merch. You’d be surprised,” Raab said. “Part of the fun is being surrounded by a bunch of gays, that part makes me really happy. All the accessories and my pride flag, that’s the best thing ever.”

The board of Conejo Valley Pride hopes to make the event an annual occurrence, dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community. Board members said their organization prides itself on being as diverse and inclusive as possible.

“[We’re] one of the few LGBTQ+ festivals out there that’s intersectionality minded,” Petchumrus said.

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