Approximately 1,000 people came out in full force last weekend for Sunday OUT! – a community block party designed to highlight and celebrate the local gay community.
The Gay Santa Barbara Foundation hosted its 15th annual Santa Barbara Gay & Lesbian Celebration on Sept. 25, featuring food, a beer garden, music, dancing and readings by local poets and authors. Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Bloom and Councilman Das Williams joined in the day-long festivities – located on the corner of De La Guerra and State Street – to show their support for the gay community.
Charles Rice, executive director of the event, said he considered Williams’ and Bloom’s appearances at the event as a sign that the Gay Santa Barbara Foundation had political allies.
“These are the people who support us and we want the constituents to know to support the people that support us,” Rice said.
Despite the turnout at the event, Rice said he was disappointed that there were not more families in attendance, as the foundation had hoped to target more of the “community at large.” He said he thinks people may have had the wrong idea about the festival.
“This is not sex in the street,” Rice said. “We need to reach out to the community and help change the world.”
Bill Vincent, the financial director of the festival, said he thinks this year’s festival helped to demonstrate the presence of a gay population in Santa Barbara and said he hoped the Gay Santa Barbara Foundation would receive more outside support from its community.
“I think it’s self evident that there are a lot of gay, lesbian and transgender people in the community,” Vincent said. “I think it’s important for the community to see that we are your teacher, your hairdresser, your florist and we could be your best friend.”
Rice said he thought the public, open setting of the festival would be particularly helpful for homosexual youths by making them feel more comfortable with who they are.
“Teen suicide rates for gay teens are disproportionately high to those for straight teens,” Rice said. “If I do my job correctly it will change lives.”
Michele Pheliarli – a vendor who sold candles and soap at the festival – said she and her partner came to the event to show Santa Barbara’s residents that homosexuality is an acceptable thing.
“Every place needs an event like this to let people know that gays are normal people,” she said. “I’m hoping the young adults that come here see that its okay to be gay and out.”
Jeff Maxwell, a Santa Barbara resident who moved to the city just 36 hours prior to the event, said he stumbled upon it while driving down State Street and was grateful to find such a large group of accepting people.
“It’s cool to come here and have open arms,” he said. “There is a community here. Its important to break down stereotypes.”