Catalina Island celebrates its first Pride event

Wrapped in a transgender flag, Cain Schleuning was swept with emotion as he gazed out at the sea of ​​revelers at the first-ever Pride celebration on Catalina Island on Saturday.

It was also Schleuning’s first Pride celebration.

Schleuning, 19, grew up in a conservative family on the island and worried he might not be accepted in the small town of 4,000 he calls home. But as he watched the community celebrate together on Saturday, those fears fell away.

“All of this really shows that people care about me and accept me for me. It’s just nice to see that I’m not alone,” said Schleuning.

The mood in Avalon, which attracts around a million visitors annually, was particularly upbeat on Saturday as several hundred locals and day-trippers gathered in the cobblestone courtyard in the heart of town to celebrate LGBTQ people. Pop hits blared from the speakers as attendees waved Pride flags and danced.

Catalina Island held its first Pride celebration on Saturday.

Catalina Island held its first Pride celebration on Saturday.

(Shauna Norfleet / For the Times)

The island’s first Pride celebration comes at a challenging time for the LGBTQ community. Lawmakers across the country are debating whether transgender children should be allowed to play in youth sports leagues, teachers have come under scrutiny — and even threatened — for discussing same-sex relationships in the classroom, and cities across the country have seen a surge in right-wing hatred of LGBTQ people -Persons.

Earlier this month, Idaho police arrested 31 members of the white racist group Patriot Front near a Pride event that authorities say they wanted to disrupt.

But the feeling in the crowd on Catalina Island was one of joy, not fear.

Avalon City Councilman Michael Ponce, 66, said he had concerns as recently as Friday about protesters possibly arriving alongside supporters. He quickly dismissed the idea.

“For me, it was more like, are they really willing to spend that kind of money to come out here and protest?” said Ponce. “There’s just nothing positive coming out of their message. They have every right to say whatever they want, but it’s hurtful and hateful.”

The crowd, which began Saturday morning with a handful of people listening to live music and comedy performances, had blossomed for the Pride Walk by noon. About 200 people walked about a mile along the island’s shoreline, from the Wrigley Stage to the Catalina Casino and back. The audience sang along to Diana Ross’ hit “I’m Coming Out.”

I want the world to know. I have to show it.

A man on a paddleboard flashed the “Hang Loose” sign as the crowd passed. Visitors on golf carts honked and shouted. A man in a Hawaiian shirt standing in front of the yacht club gave high fives and said to the attendees, “Thank you for being there.”

Lori Snell, 64, who has owned a home in Avalon with her partner Kate for two decades, was blown away by the turnout. The community, which she said is fairly conservative and religious, has stepped up to make them feel welcome, she said.

High school students recently formed a gay-straight alliance. Bullying on campus, particularly by LGBTQ youth, has encouraged public relations by city officials.

“It’s just so important to be inclusive for everyone and this is a very inclusive community in general, but gay people are underrepresented,” Snell said. “That this is such a big deal is just so appreciated.”

Snell and her partner met 34 years ago at the Los Angeles Pride celebration. In 2004, they were among several thousand couples illegally married in San Francisco in a political and legal challenge to California’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“I’ve never felt so old,” Snell said as she watched a group of teenagers walk past. “It’s a new generation of kids who are open and proud and comfortable. And it’s fabulous.” Catalina Island celebrates its first Pride event

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