.Santa Cruz Pride’s 49th Weekend!

The Santa Cruz Pride festivities occurring on June 1 and 2 celebrate the diverse LGBTQ+ community across Santa Cruz County. Attend Queerlantis on June 1 at the Cocoanut Grove and then watch the parade at 11am in downtown Santa Cruz followed by the festival with live entertainment and a family art activity at the MAH.

Queerlantis, a sea oddity carnival extravaganza drag and dance party, is set to kick off Santa Cruz Pride weekend on June 1 in the historic Cocoanut Grove. This immersive event promises an unforgettable experience for all attendees. This one-of-a-kind experience will feature mesmerizing performances, a diverse lineup of drag artists, burlesque dancers, contortionists, and a vibrant energy that will have attendees up on their feet, dancing the night away.

“We are thrilled to kick off Santa Cruz Pride weekend with Queerlantis,” says Christian Rivera, marketing director of Queerlantis.

“This event is a celebration of diversity and pride, and we can’t wait to immerse our attendees in an enchanting and inclusive experience.”

The annual parade and festival will follow on June 2. It will be one of the largest in recent years and will take place in downtown Santa Cruz. Spectators will be able to view the rainbow colored floats and contingents that will be traveling along Pacific from Cathcart to Front Street. The festival, including over 60 booths from local organizations and vendors and a photo booth, will take place following the parade on Pacific and Cooper Streets from noon to 4pm.

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The festival entertainment will take place on two stages and will highlight some of the best drag, dancing and musical talent in the area. The Abbott Square stage will feature the annual recognition of our Grand Marshals with our local electeds, followed by drag performers and singers. The Locust Street Stage will feature Cheer SF and Angeles Danzantes, a local folklorico dance group, along with singers and dancing.

The Santa Cruz MAH, a partner in the event, will have free admission for all where attendees can browse the many art and history exhibits including the queer history exhibit on the second floor. Young people will enjoy the family day art activity at the MAH that will include a scavenger hunt and slime making. In addition, a pop up exhibit on June 1 and June 2 called “Is Gender Working for You?” will take place in the Garden Room. Artist Shani Fable will be present on Sunday, June 2 to greet attendees.

This year’s theme is “Beacon of Pride” and the logo features the Walton Lighthouse at the end of the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor, and a kaleidoscope circle with all the colors of the many pride flags. The kaleidoscope, with its everchanging and endless possibilities, mirrors the diverse and multifaceted nature of our community. Each turn reflects the unique patterns and characteristics that define us including the spectrum of genders and sexual orientations that exist across Santa Cruz County. This theme invites attendees to see the beauty in diversity and the strength in unity where everyone is valued and belongs. Everyone across our county is a beacon of pride and we invite everyone to join us at our events the weekend of June 1 and 2, 2024.

Santa Cruz Pride began in 1975, one of the first smaller city prides, preceded in California only by San Francisco and Los Angeles. The first Santa Cruz Pride included weeklong events that featured a concert by musician and composer Lou Harrison, workshops at Cabrillo College, and a picnic at San Lorenzo Park where there was a tug-of-war across the river. Every year since then, volunteers have organized an annual event that celebrates the rich LGBTQ+ culture and history across Santa Cruz County.

Find all the information about Santa Cruz Pride at SantaCruzPride.org.

BEACH BLANKET BINGO The Pride Celebration moves to Santa Cruz’s premier place for fun the night before the parade. Photo: Rob Darrow

Queerlantis at the Beach

Queer entertainment has evolved in Santa Cruz County

By Rob Darrow and Zak Keith

History was made in May 2023 as Santa Cruz Pride and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk joined forces to launch the first Queerlantis—a drag and dance party that highlighted more than 10 drag performers, aerialists and performers. The Boardwalk sunroom was decorated with hanging sea creatures, walls of wave-themed shapes, and a fabulous ocean-themed stage. Over 250 people donned their festive attire to dance the night away. The overwhelming success of Queerlantis sparked a tradition that continues to flourish, and planning for a second Queerlantis commenced with unparalleled flair.

The second annual Queerlantis will take place on June 1 in the Cocoanut Grove as part of the Santa Cruz Pride weekend. The entire community is invited to step into  Queerlantis, A Sea Oddity Carnival Extravaganza, and experience the enchantment. Tickets may be purchased at: queerlantis.eventbrite.com.  

The Santa Cruz County LGBTQ+ culture became more visible in the 1970s and an important part of that visibility was the entertainment scene. From backyards to bars to stages, coffee houses, bookstores and auditoriums, queer performers have provided various forms of artistic expression across the county. 

Franco’s Norma Jean’s in Castroville, under the ownership of Ernie Sanchez, became a destination for drag performers in the late 1980s. Despite being in Monterey County, it was a short drive from Watsonville or Santa Cruz to view a variety of song and dance shows on the weekends. 

In the same decade, Tracye Lee Lawson began Lee Lawson Productions and brought a variety of performers to Santa Cruz including lesbian singers Holly Near, Cris Williamson and others. Entertainers played at Kuumbwa and also in the Civic Auditorium. In the mid-1980s, the annual event known as “A Gay Evening in May” became a fundraiser for the Santa Cruz AIDS project and ran for nearly 10 years at the Civic Auditorium as a variety show with musical, dramatic and dance numbers. 

Entertainment could also be found at one of the four queer bars in Santa Cruz County, including the Dragon Moon on Soquel Avenue (now the Crepe Place) or at Mona’s Gorilla Lounge near Dominican Hospital (now Moe’s Alley), until the 1990s.

All entertainment thrived through the 1990s and early 2000s and then changed as venue ownership and interest changed. In addition, the annual Santa Cruz Pride parade and festival that began in 1975 has provided live entertainment including music, dancing and drag performances the first Sunday in June each year.

 One of the many performers at the first Pride event was Patti Maxine, who still dazzles crowds today with her steel guitar and vocals. The pandemic paused all entertainment venues and many entertainers refined their musical and performance skills through various online venues, and this included Virtual Santa Cruz Pride that took place in June 2020 and featured performers speaking and singing from their homes, including Patti Maxine.

Also during this time, due to the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race, artists across the county began exploring their drag personas. Drag traces its artistic roots back to the Harlem Renaissance and was primarily popularized by Black and Latino performers.

Drag has emerged across the Central Coast as a vibrant art form with adoring fans populating bars, coffee shops, bookstores, libraries, story times and at Pride events. In addition, Motion Pacific developed “Majesty: A Queer Dance and Variety Show” in 2017, and continues to produce the event every other month with new drag acts being celebrated by sold-out crowds raining dollar bills on the performers.

Following the pandemic, entertainment spaces and queer entertainment in the county evolved in new ways. Santa Cruz Pride re-emerged with a live parade and festival in 2022 that included drag performers on the Abbott Square stage. In the fall of that year, Santa Cruz Pride wanted to expand and celebrate the rich LGBTQ+ culture of the county, and reached out to representatives of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk to explore possibilities. This conversation resulted in an offer of a venue to develop some type of evening event.

Several names were offered including Aqueerious, Waves of Pride, Queertopia, Evening of Drag, Boardwalk Boogaloo, Deep Diving Divas, Emerging from the Ocean, Under the Sea, and Mermaid Beach Party. The name that emerged was: Queerlantis.

Rob Darrow (he, him, his) is chair of Santa Cruz Pride and has researched the rich LGBTQ+ history that exists across Santa Cruz County.

Zak Keith (they, them) is a UCSC Grad student who is researching youth queer identity, a program facilitator at the Diversity Center, and a drag artist who produces many drag shows including Roulette Hour, a drag, burlesque and variety show once a month in Monterey.

Santa Cruz Pride Grand Marshals

Making our community stronger

By Rob Darrow

Elaine Johnson
Pat Dellin

One grand marshal is described as an “organizer, activist and historian” and the other is a “beacon of hope for queer people of color committed to doing community service.” Both are out lesbians who were born and raised in New York, found their way to Santa Cruz in the 1970s and 2000s, and have improved the culture of Santa Cruz County because of their service and work tackling complex issues such as housing, transportation, race, restorative justice and the court system, and archiving our history. 

Pat Dellin and Elaine Johnson were recently named as the Santa Cruz Pride 2024 Grand Marshals. Naming the grand marshals for Santa Cruz Pride is an annual tradition that began in 1991. Every year since then, the community has put forth names of people deserving of the grand marshal honor that may be an individual, organization or a group who have given extraordinary service to the Santa Cruz Queer community, and then lead the Pride Parade.

Regarding her selection as a grand marshal, Pat responded, “I’m thrilled to be a grand marshal because Pride means so much to our community. I’ve seen that clearly in my work documenting our local LGBTQ+ history. From our first gathering of 200 in San Lorenzo Park in 1975 to today’s festival that takes over downtown Santa Cruz, Pride is about being visible, building community, and supporting each other.” 

Elaine also reflected about what being the grand marshal means to her: “My grandmother and ‘Aunt’ Elaine would have been so proud; they were partners for 40 years and had to hide so much when they were together. I am honored to continue to carry on their legacy of what they taught me about love, acceptance, and kindness to everyone, and I get to celebrate that with everybody on June 2. I’m going to bring them with me; we’ve come a mighty long way.”

Pat Dellin remembers the first Santa Cruz Pride in 1975, attended one of the first Amazon Women’s Music Festivals in the Santa Cruz Mountains and helped publish the Lavender Readher, the first newsletter for lesbians in Santa Cruz. As a Diversity Center Board member in 2010, she became aware of boxes of artifacts that were housed in the dusty attic of the Diversity Center.

After digging through and organizing the artifacts, she put out a call to the LGBTQ+ community to donate items so that the local LGBTQ+ history could be archived and protected. At the same time she realized how many people had impacted and improved LGBTQ+ life across Santa Cruz County and implemented the Diversity Center Trailblazers program that celebrated the contributions of local LGBTQ+ people.

Dellin forged an ongoing relationship between the Museum of Art and History (MAH) and the Santa Cruz LGBTQ+ queer community that resulted in archiving the artifacts and the virtual and physical Queer History exhibit at the MAH. This success then paved the way for a state archives grant by the MAH in 2022 to digitize the LGBTQ+ collection that continues today.

Community and building community has been Elaine Johnson’s life work. Since the age of 14 she knew she wanted to be a lawyer, and a little later in life she fulfilled that dream in 2015 when she earned her law degree at the Monterey College of Law.  She has applied her law degree in many ways to advance a variety of programs across Santa Cruz County including a restorative justice program for youth in the criminal justice system, advancing affordable housing and promoting racial healing and advancing social justice initiatives. 

As the executive director of Housing Santa Cruz, Elaine has successfully advocated for policies to make housing more affordable for everyone in our county. As the president of the NAACP, she has brought diverse and compassionate leadership to empower local black community members and continues to engage the community in ongoing conversations about race to eliminate race prejudice.

Adam Spickler, a Cabrillo College trustee, further describes Elaine: “As an out lesbian, African American leader in our community, she is a role model for all of us of what it looks like to be a leader doing work that uplifts the greater good of others.”

In addition, Elaine has served on the boards of Monarch Services and Encompass Community Services, the Juvenile Justice Delinquent Prevention Commission, Community Action Board (CAB), and Rise Together Santa Cruz County.

Queerlantis hosts Khloe Quarterpounder and Rogue Roulette.

What does Pride mean to me?

Members of the SC Pride Board of Directors recently met up on KSQD for a radio interview with Christine Barrington for Talk of the Bay. Among many things, they talked about what Santa Cruz Pride means to them.

By Rob Darrow

Ethan Quaranta: Pride is about allowing others to live happy and proud lives. As I was growing up, I was aware of microaggressions others would say about LGBTQ+ people. Being in the parade and wearing a flower crown and glitter on my face in the parade was the ultimate coming out for me as well as a feeling of home and welcome for all. Being in the parade, it is fun to watch younger kids smile and wave as we walk by and that is all very meaningful to me.

Kate McGrath: Pride means celebration of myself, my identity, my friends and who they love. The annual pride parade and festival is an annual homecoming celebrating joy and love of my community. Pride is the first place that many people can be out and themselves. 

Brian Howard: Pride for me is the ability to be my true self without shame and embarrassment. Pride allows me to be open and honest with those I love.  I get to feel connected to others and a larger community. Pride also gives me the ability to support others in their differences and struggles, which only encourages them to be their true selves with me. Pride is home and being around people that I love. Santa Cruz is one of the most welcoming places I have lived so Pride celebrates our loving community.

Rob Darrow: Pride is about celebrating who we are, reminding ourselves of the rich and sometimes painful history of standing up for ourselves, and advocating for equal rights for all. For many people, attending Pride events is their first time to publicly come out and to celebrate that with their friends and others who are doing the same. Attending Pride is a celebration for everyone, where everyone is included and belongs.

Curt Keyer:  In the seventies, Pride was my way of asserting my identity as a gay man. I was aware that I was helping create a better world for myself and the generations who would follow by being visible; out and proud. In the past, Pride was a time to celebrate who we were at a time when we were neither supported nor celebrated by our families or society in general. Today, Pride is a time to come together with friends to support and celebrate ourselves and each other.

Outside of her advocacy work, Elaine finds joy in watching football, particularly cheering on her beloved NY Giants, and enjoys singing and spending quality time with her wife. Join the Santa Cruz Community in celebrating the Santa Cruz grand marshals at the 49th Annual Pride Parade on Sunday, June 2 in downtown Santa Cruz at 11am

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