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Local News

Festival cheers pride, openness

9/26/04

By BARNEY McMANIGAL

NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER

They wouldn't give their names, but the two female teachers from Ventura walking arm in arm said they were having a good time.

The lesbian couple said they came to Santa Barbara's 14th annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Celebration because there are few places where they feel like they can express their relationship openly or even hold hands. They often worry doing so could cost them their jobs.

Joining hundreds of others in De la Guerra Plaza, the teachers said they hoped such events could change society so that they would not have to fear for their jobs in the future.

"I don't know of any other gay teachers in our school district," said one of the women, who described the district as conservative. "It's nice to feel like you have a community where you belong, where you don't have to ignore the bad or judgmental looks."

Other visitors strolled the booths and nearby bandstand simply for the party.

"It's time for the gay community to celebrate instead of having to live behind a stigma," said Eric Wang of Los Angeles. "Santa Barbara is a great city -- very comfortable, very open."

Organizers said the festival was making history by expanding into a two-day event and partnering with corporate sponsors such as Bud Lite, which was on sale in a beer garden.

"The courage it takes for a business to put their names behind something like this is huge," Charles Rice said.

Brett Wagner, the Democratic candidate in November's race for the 24th Congressional District, said the event gave the gay community -- and its many subsets -- a venue to interact besides gay bars for men and private parties for women.

"It's a community builder," he said.

While noting that his candidacy was based on more than gay-related issues, Mr. Wagner shared his views on gays in politics.

"I'd like to see gays and lesbians become more socially and politically active and work a little bit harder to ensure their voices are heard."

The festival continues from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today.

A literary saloon, "Read OUT Loud," will begin at 1 p.m. in the City Council chambers next to the plaza.

Santa Barbaran Daniel Jaffe ("The Limits of Pleasure") will host it, and it will feature Christopher Rice ("A Density of Souls" and "The Snow Garden"), poet Eloise Klein Healy, playwright and performer L. Trey Wilson and writer Griselda Suarez.

For more information, visit www.gaysantabarbara.org on the Web.

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