Balloons, glitter and a spectrum of color flies across the parking lot at San Jose’s Family and Children’s Center, pop music booming from the a large set of speakers. In the crowd, animated smiles, colorful outfits and painted faces ebb between the variety of booths set up around the perimeter, catered not only towards pride or even the youth — but community.
The second-ever South Bay Youth Pride Fest — the idea first brought to life in 2017 after nearly two years of planning — held the same goal as ever: to create a space where LGBTQ+ youth can meet up safely, learn more about local opportunities and issues and most importantly, celebrate their identities.
According to second-time attendees, this year’s event featured a larger crowd and a more relaxed vibe. Through a combination of second-year establishment and less of a need to prove itself, the event, it seems, is here to stay.
“We were also able to plan for more people to show up because last time we ran out of, T-shirts and lots of [other] things. We planned for that, which is good,” senior Ollie Venzon said.
For the pride festival this year, those in the GSA who are involved in planning were much more prepared than the past year, ready to accommodate more people. According to second year volunteers, who were there last year to witness the small mistakes that come with many inaugural events.
“I remember last year, garbage filled up, people didn’t know where things were, so this time we had sign for things. It’s like ‘Enter from the entrance! Because then you get your food ticket, or, this is where the toilet is!’ and stuff like that,” senior Ren Chan said.
Speaking to the members of the community who set up booths at the festival — who represented everyone from Planned Parenthood to the San Jose Public Library — a common sentiment was one of gratitude. Many, like Li Patron of the South Bay DIY Zine Collective, said of the festival,“I wish that this existed in San Jose when I was a teenager.”
The concept of a youth-oriented pride event is relatively new in the area; most adults at the event couldn’t recall attending or even hearing about a similar event occurring anywhere, much less the South Bay. Most pride events, according to Poliana Irizarry of the same zine collective, tend to be more sexual, less educational and generally more focused on “adult” themes.
“The number one thing that I’ve noticed [about the South Bay Youth Pride Fest] is that there isn’t an emphasis on sexuality — it’s more of an emphasis on viewpoint, philosophy, emotions; basically how the feeling of being queer or having friends or loved ones that are queer [is],” Irizarry said. “Because it’s youth-focused, there’s not that sex pressure that I feel like happens in adult pride festivals. Also, the lack of alcohol makes it a lot less intimidating and a lot more welcoming.”
That welcoming aspect — aided by youth-oriented activities like tie-dying, face painting and bracelet making — made it easier for the siblings, families and friends of LGBTQ+ youth to attend as well, to not only understand those important to them, but also to learn more about the community through all the informational booths available. The emphasis that the SBYPF places on providing help and education along with celebration is what makes it unique and influential.
Larger, adult-oriented pride events like Silicon Valley Pride, who were present at the festival, are encouraging more family-friendly activities at their events as well a message of education and inclusivity. Nicole Altamirano, the Chief Operations Officer of SV Pride, explained that they have been increasing their efforts in helping youth feel more comfortable at their event by recruiting teenage volunteers from high schools around the Bay Area to help them plan the event.
“Actually we reached out to high school students last year for Pride. We had a few high school contingents come in and volunteer for us,” Altamirano said. “Our pride festival is a lot of fun. It’s different from San Francisco. We’re family-friendly, we’re going to have a little kids area, the San Jose Library’s gonna be out there.”
Altamirano, who attended the SBYPF with the booth last year as well, noticed the more relaxed environment of this year’s event and cites the larger crowd and its second-year status as the reason behind the change.
“I think this year, it’s the same but more people are here, and it seems more livelier this year. Maybe because it’s the second year. I think each year you get, the festival will grow and grow.” Altamirano said. “I love it. I think it’s great, this whole entire thing that the youth have some place like this to go to. I wish I had it when I was younger.”