Rocker Cassidy Haley performed with his band, Cassidy Haley and the Sunshine Rebels, at Pride in the Plaza. The event also included a free carnival. (Photo by Victoria Billings)

San Luis Obispo’s Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) wrapped up its 15th Annual Pride Festival last week with a weekend full of drag queens, concerts from local openly gay and lesbian artists and a family-geared celebration in Mission Plaza.

The festival was a celebration for the gay and lesbian community and an educational community outreach for the public, said Robert Kinports, event coordinator for the Pride Festival for the last eight years.

GALA aims to attract as many different people as possible, both straight and gay, through the variety of events planned throughout the festival, and this helps create positive relationships, Kinports said.

“It’s really a great community builder because it’s not a closed-off Pride Festival,” he said. “There’s a lot more kind of one-on-one discussion.”

The Pride Festival began as a single event in Mission Plaza and has since expanded to a two-week-long series of concerts, barbecues, wine receptions and family activities. This year is the 15th anniversary of the event, and GALA invited pop singer Taylor Dayne to wrap up the festival at Sunday’s Pride in the Plaza.

“Because this is our 15th year anniversary, we wanted to do something special, so we brought in Taylor Dayne for a free concert in the Plaza,” Kinports said.

Before Pride in the Plaza on Sunday, however, GALA planned Drag Divas Live at SLO Brew Co. and a “Fifteen Years of Pride” celebration and barbecue at the GALA Center.

The Drag Divas performed July 8, with a Pride Dance Party afterward. The Drag Divas were entertainment as well as an important part of LGBT history because of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which were started by drag queens and brought the gay rights movement to public attention, said entertainment coordinator Ryan Miller.

“Drag queens are really responsible for the gay rights movement in America,” Miller said.

The drag night featured performances by professional drag queens who tour the country and have been involved in shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race, Miller said.

“These are people who are incredible dancers, incredible performers, hilarious comedians and oh, by the way, they’re men who impersonate women,” Miller said.

GALA also threw a party at the GALA Center in downtown San Luis Obispo on July 8. The celebration included live music, a barbecue and presentations on the history of both GALA and the Pride Festival over the last 15 years.

The biggest event of the two-week festival was July 9, with Pride in the Plaza from 12 to 6 p.m. in Mission Plaza. Multiple local, openly gay artists performed throughout the day, with “a little bit of something for everyone,” Miller said.

The acts covered every genre from rock to folk to electronica, but with a consistent family-friendly focus, Miller said.
The concert’s final act was wrapped up was Taylor Dayne, who is known for both her pop music and her support of the LGBT community, Miller said.

“We try to showcase openly gay followed by actively and openly supporting GLBT artists first and foremost,” Miller said.

Pride in the Plaza also included a carnival for children, with two bounce houses, an obstacle course, a Gyroscope fair ride and water balloon wars. The free carnival attracts more than 100 kids each year, said Sarah Best, who coordinates the children’s activities.

“We have many families, both straight and gay, who come up with their kids just because they know there’s this huge kids area and it’s free,” Best said.

The carnival was next to Mission Plaza, with Broad Street closed to traffic to make room for the bounce houses and other activities.

Pride in the Plaza’s concerts and kids’ carnival served as a thank you for community support of GALA events and fundraisers throughout the year, Kinports said.

“(People) always ask, ‘And how much does it cost?’” Kinports said. “It doesn’t cost anything. It’s our gift back to the community.”

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