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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Gay Pride Is on Display in Simi Valley

Lifestyles: Third annual festival draws a crowd of 3,500. About 30 protesters also are on hand to denounce gathering.

May 08, 2000|KATIE COOPER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SIMI VALLEY — Thousands of people from across Southern California converged on this quintessential suburb Sunday to celebrate gay life and culture.

Those attending the Lesbian & Gay Awareness Festival said its Simi Valley location reflected a growing acceptance of homosexuality by mainstream Americans and the growing desire by gay families to move to the suburbs.

"Five years ago, this wouldn't have happened here," said Dennis Mitchell, a Ventura resident soaking up the music at the third annual festival with his partner of 20 years. "Everyone seems a little less ignorant now."

Outside the fair, held on a grassy area at an industrial park on Tapo Canyon Road, about 30 protesters waving signs with biblical quotations denounced homosexuality.

Jason Kovar of Blessed Hope Chapel in Simi Valley said he views homosexuality in the same light as adultery or stealing--as a sin against God.

"Homosexuality is not something of the Lord," said Kovar, a Thousand Oaks resident.

But most of the crowd, estimated at 3,500, brushed past the protesters to eat, drink and dance to a throbbing disco beat under the warm spring sun.

Organizer Paul Waters said gay pride festivals in suburban areas and in smaller communities are increasingly commonplace and are designed to educate the wider community that they should not be shocked to find that neighbors and other acquaintances are gay.

For instance, Waters said, some expect anyone who is gay to dress flamboyantly--but that is a stereotype.

"Gay people live everywhere," Waters said. "Most people don't know that thousands live in Simi Valley. But don't expect drag queens walking down the street. People like that live in West Hollywood."

With close-cropped hair, a pierced lip and masculine attire, John Bollyard, who changed her name from Jeannine, said she has experienced no problems during numerous visits to Simi Valley.

"Nobody thinks about it here," said Bollyard, who lives in the San Fernando Valley but said she is frequently in Simi Valley because that is where her partner, Annette Castillo, lives.

Castillo, a member of a gay and lesbian group for Mormons, said she was pleased to see the number of people who turned out for the festival, an increase over last year's 2,800. She said a number of Mormons had expressed interest in joining her club, which had a booth at the fair.

"There are a ton of Mormons in Simi," Castillo said.

Other faith-based groups, social clubs and support groups solicited memberships and counseled festival visitors.

The Ventura County Probation Agency, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department recruited job candidates while the Ventura County Fire Department promoted fire prevention.

"We're not for the festival or against the festival," Assistant Fire Chief Ken Maffei said. "We just go to all the events."

Also collecting signatures was Brian Perry of the Log Cabin Republicans, the national gay political advocacy group.

Perry, a member of the Los Angeles branch, said the club is working to open a chapter in Ventura County because of the large number of Republican voters.

"We're important in places like Ventura County, where the political structure is mostly Republican," he said. "For gays and lesbians to have an impact, they need to be a part of the Republican Party."

Relaxing in the shade of a sycamore tree, Julie Barrientos said she was surprised to see how much Simi Valley had changed since her childhood.

"This was such a straight-laced community," said Barrientos, who was hoping to meet a new companion at the festival. "But now there are so many gay people in Simi. A lot of women having kids and wanting to live in the suburbs."

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