OCEANSIDE -- This past Sunday, Oct. 9, the newly renamed North County LGBTQ Resource Center organization held their 4th annual "Pride @ the Beach" celebration, which broke their previous attendance records and crossed the region's military barriers for the first time.
This late-in-the-Pride-season celebration started in a beachside gynmasium in 2008, before getting its prime location in Betty's Lot last year. With perfect views of crashing waves and the iconic Oceanside pier, easy street access and a comfortable, partially shaded, self-contained area, the spot has resonated with the community and attendance has boomed.
This was the first year organizers produced the event under their new name. Previously known as the North County LGBT Coalition, the name was changed to North County LGBTQ Resource Center earlier this year, in advance of a soon-to-be acquired building that will act as a community center for the North County region.
Gay-Straight Alliances and other youth groups dotted the field of event participants, and a great number of youth were in attendance. The North County Coalition has made it part of their mission since day one to donate any proceeds to local GSA organizations, so it is not surprising this festival is resonating with both the schools and the kids in them.
Executive Director Max Disposti told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News he was very pleased with this year's festival.
"It ran very smoothly, we didn't have any issues, whatsoever," he said, referring to the large group of right-wing protesters that surrounded their space two years ago. "Every year our Pride attendance has gone up significantly. The first year was 600, last year we had 2,500 people but this year we are very excited because we counted 4,000 people. It gave us a $4,000 profit and allows us enough money to continue supporting the local Gay-Straight Alliances.
"The numbers have their own importance, but what is more important is the impact in the community," he continued. "The significance is that more people in North County and even down in San Diego are recognizing us. The variety of attendees amazes me -- allies, youth, minorities, and this year, gay service members."
In another first for the annual Pride festival, which is held in downtown Oceanside along the boardwalk and just a couple miles from Camp Pendleton, it was the first time an LGBT military support organization had a presence.
Servicemembers United has been a staple at San Diego Pride the last few years, but since the repeal of DADT happened just last month, organizers felt it was time to reach out to this more remote area of the county, one which is also heavily populated with military personnel.
Several Marines walking around the festival said they were happy to be there but nervous about being seen, despite the fact that DADT was repealed on Sept. 20th. One Marine, who did not reveal his name to San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, suggested that his presence was still a problem.
"If my buddies see me, I'll be in trouble," he said. The Marine went on to explain he had walked in circles for close to 15 minutes before coming inside, afraid of who might see him. He said his fears were based on the hazing and violence he was sure to experience, should he be seen by anyone.
"This weekend Servicemembers United tapped a demographic that desperately needs attention and gay military networking," said board member Sean Sala of their booth this year at Pride at the Beach. "I saw a lot of Marines that seemed a little skiddish coming in the door and around the area. But eventually they came in and we made some very strategic and down to earth connections with these service members, letting them know that they are not alone."
Sala was instrumental in organizing the military contingent at this year's San Diego Pride, a groundbreaking fete that garnered worldwide attention.
"The main event we were promoting [at Pride at the Beach] was our upcoming partners Brunch for Servicemembers United. One of the many events in the months to come designed to strengthen the gay military coalition on San Diego," Sala said.
According to Sala, details are still being worked out, but those interested in the brunch can register at the SU website and receive updates on the event. They can also visit the local SU San Diego Facebook page.
State Assemblymember Toni Atkins and City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio were also in attendance and mingled with supporters as they made their way around the festival. Both Atkins and DeMaio also took to the stage for a few minutes to address the crowd, as did Jerry Tetalman, a North County Democrat who plans to unseat Darrell Issa.
Oceanside City Councilmember and Deputy Mayor Esther Sanchez also stepped up on stage and gave a "very nice speech," according to Disposti. He admits it wasn't easy to get them there in the first few years, but Sanchez attended last year and decided to speak to the attendees this year. That is definitely progress.
Things can only keep going up from here.
Photos: Top, left: Servicemembers United in their booth at Pride at the Beach; Middle: Assemblymember Toni Atkins addressing the crowd; Bottom: City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio speaking to attendees. All photos by Jim Winsor/SDPix.