Modesto vigil celebrates diversity, shared bonds in response to straight pride rally

People representing this area’s diversity — whether through their religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation — will gather Friday evening at a Modesto church to celebrate that diversity as well as their shared humanity.

One of the organizers of the community candlelight vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church said the gathering will counter the proposed straight pride rally that has caused a firestorm of divisive and hateful words and show the true Modesto, a city that is strong because of its diversity.

“We respect the dignity and value of everyone who lives in the Central Valley and every person matters and has something to contribute,” said the Rev. Nick Lorenzetti with St. Paul’s in an interview late last week. “That is what America is about. ... We don’t want people living in fear here.”

Bay Area chiropractor Don Grundmann is working with friend and Modesto resident Mylinda Mason on holding a straight pride rally Saturday. They tried to hold the rally at Mancini Bowl in Graceada Park and then looked at Modesto Centre Plaza. Those efforts fell through.

Grundmann, who started the National Straight Pride Coalition about four months ago, said late last week an event will take place Saturday and expected its location would be announced on Facebook and the coalition’s website the day of the event.

According to its website, the coalition is protecting traditional gender roles, Christianity, heterosexuality, Western Civilization, and the contributions of whites to Western Civilization from the malevolence of the homosexual movement.

The rally has drawn strong opposition locally. Opponents say the rally promotes white supremacy, hate speech and violence against the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and other minorities. Grundmann and Mason have said that is not true and they and their supporters have been vilified and their views misrepresented.

Lorenzetti is working with Rabbi Shalom Bochner with Congregation Beth Shalom and Imam Ahmad Kayello with the Islamic Center of Modesto on the vigil. He said other religious leaders, including the Rev. Misael Avila with St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Riverbank, will attend as well.

Lorenzetti stressed this is a community vigil and that officials with the local chapter of the NAACP, MoPride and members of the Buddhist and Sikh communities will attend.

He said the Modesto City Council has been invited, and Mayor Ted Brandvold has been invited to speak. Lorenzetti said so far council members Doug Ridenour, Jenny Kenoyer and Kristi Ah You have accepted the invitation.

The roughly hourlong vigil starts at 6:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s at Oakdale Road and Briggsmore Avenue. He said after the vigil, people can gather in the fellowship hall.

This is not the only event planned in response to the straight pride rally:

The Central Valley Pride Center in downtown Modesto will hold a love and safety event Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Center manager Britni Hodge said people can work through the emotions that have come up with the rally. “It’s very painful for people to see this hate in our city,” Hodge said.

Congregation Beth Shalom is screening the film “Dear Freddy” on Saturday. According to the congregation’s website, the film is about Freddy Hirsch, a gay man and “an Olympic-caliber Jewish athlete who could have left Europe for safety” during Hitler’s reign but stayed and ran a day care at Auschwitz. The film starts at 2:30 p.m. and includes a panel discussion followed by fellowship.

And Chris Holland with Pride, Solidarity and Multiculturalism said plans still are on for a protest that he expects will draw 300 people. The protest will take place near the straight pride rally but with a buffer zone. “We are not going to engage them directly,” Holland said.

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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.