Moms giving out free hugs, cheerleaders flipping through the air and rainbow parasols shielding from the last of the summer sun punctuated Downtown Modesto Pride on Saturday.
The free community event which celebrates the Central Valley’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community spread across four city blocks, along 10th and J streets. The street fair had booths from community groups, nonprofits, churches and vendors as well as live entertainment throughout the day.
A small though steady crowd milled through Saturday afternoon, braving the 100-degree heat. Organizers Brian Friend and Brie Parmer said they wanted to bring the event downtown to celebrate the area’s LGBTQ community in the heart of the city.
The all-day activities included performances from local bands, Modesto native and “American Idol” finalist Ryan Hammond and the charitable cheerleading group Cheer SF.
“We moved it from the park to right here, where it should be, in downtown in Modesto,” said Friend, who also runs the Laser Voodoo party and light show company. “It belongs downtown right by the City Hall where it needs to be. This is our community space.”
He helped organize the celebration along with his friend Parmer, who owns Downtown TinkerTank, in partnership with MoPRIDE and the Central Valley Pride Center. MoPRIDE has hosted a pride event in years past, primarily in Graceada Park and also at John Thurman Field.
Friend said the two began planning in April, well before the controversy surrounding a planned “straight pride” rally in August that had its permit denied for Graceada Park due to safety concerns. The rally eventually became speeches at a private location followed by a protest in front of Planned Parenthood that drew about 20 supporters and some 250 counter protesters.
Parmer said the downtown pride event drew support from surrounding businesses, and their mission was to make it a free and family friendly gathering.
“It’s wasn’t a response to the straight pride event, this event was going to happen no matter what,” she said. “We just needed to know that we had the support to do it.”
More than 40 groups had booths, including four churches and several nonprofit and service agencies. St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Riverbank was among the religious groups represented. Father Misael Avila said he came with the support of Diocese of Stockton Bishop Myron Cotta.
“We’re very excited the church is here and part of this event,” he said. “I’ve had conversations with Catholics who have left the church because they don’t feel welcome. And our message is God loves you no matter who you are.”
Others spreading the love were local members of the national nonprofit group Free Mom Hugs. More than half a dozen moms handed out hugs and free cookies to passersby. Sarah Reid from Tuolumne said the group was started to support members of the LGBTQ community whose families may not accept or support them.
“We just believe that everyone deserves some love and hugs,” she said.
The event drew only one visible protester, a street preacher with an oversize sign telling people to “Repent or Perish” and “Jesus Saves from Hell” with images of flames.
Despite his brief presence, attendees like Modesto resident Ashley Deal, 35, and her 13-year-old nephew Michael Carr of Oakdale said the event showed how welcoming Modesto and the valley have become.
“It’s impressive that there are people coming out to celebrate like this. That’s the sign of a good city. It shows a lot of love,” she said. “It’s really good to see.”