Santa Barbara’s gay community celebrated diversity during the annual Gay Pride Festival held at De La Guerra Plaza in downtown Santa Barbara on Saturday.
The festival, which drew an estimated 3,000 people, featured a wide variety of gay-related musical acts including Joyful Noise and the a cappella group Men Out Loud. The Disposable Boy Toys, a 17-member drag king group made up of UCSB graduate and undergraduate students, also lip-synced and acted out popular songs at the event.
The event, called “Celebrate Diversity,” was hosted by the Gay Santa Barbara Foundation, a volunteer group. Several corporations, including Borders Books, Budweiser, Rail Europe, Perrier, Toyota of Santa Barbara, Kinko’s, Firestone Vineyard, Calistoga and 101Freeway.com sponsored the festival.
“The festival acts as a social highpoint of the year for the gay community. It brings people together, and it is important in creating a sense of family amongst community members,” GSB Executive Director Charles Rice said. “The gay community needs to act as a family since many gay people are rejected by their families.”
The festival, usually scheduled in the summer, was held in the fall with the intention of attracting more students, Rice said.
“In the past, there has been energy missing from the festival since most Santa Barbara college students have been away for the summer and could not attend. There has been an under-representation of students in the past and hopefully this will change,” Rice said.
Though many gay and lesbian social groups exist in Santa Barbara, the Gay Pride Festival is the only annual event that brings the entire gay community together, according to Jean-Guy Dube, former president of the UCSB Queer Student Union.
“The festival is a great time to see what the gay community is all about. Many gay couples don’t go out very often, and they only get the feeling of support at this annual festival,” Dube said.
Dana Collins, a UCSB sociology graduate student, said she was displeased with the prominence of corporate sponsorship.
“This is the only event each year where there is public gay visibility, and we are surrounded by commodities. This is a dilemma in the queer community,” she said.
Mark Schuller, UCSB anthropology graduate student, said he resented the commercial pressure at the event.
“There is definitely a message at this festival. Buy stuff,” Schuller said.
Men Out Loud, a gay a cappella group, covers a variety of songs ranging from 1940s and ’50s classics to Madonna. Steve Steinberg, the founder of Men Out Loud, said the group is the first openly gay musical group to be signed to a major record label. Steinberg said the group performs at pride festivals throughout the year.
“Small festivals like this one are great. It is nice that this festival also draws in the straight community and shows them that gay people aren’t centered around sex,” Steinberg said.
Melanie Corn, a UCSB art history graduate student, said she was glad to see other students at the festival
“I am happy that so many people showed up. We love to feel support from other students,” she said.