Rob Darrow (he, him, his) identifies as a gay man and is a lifelong Californian who was born and raised in Santa Cruz. He works as Director of Research and Professional Learning with the Safe Schools Project Santa Cruz County, teaches history to future teachers at CSU Monterey Bay and is chair of SC Pride.
He has worked in all levels of education—from preschool to doctoral level professorships—as an online school principal, adjunct professor, school librarian and teacher.
His research interests include LGBTQ+ history, safe and inclusive school climate for LGBTQ+ youth, professional learning and school libraries. His mission is to ensure that LGBTQ+ history is taught in every K-12 classroom in California consistent with state laws passed in 2011. He also appreciates the rich LGBTQ+ history across Santa Cruz County and looks forward to celebrating that in 2025 for the 50th Anniversary of SC Pride. Rob is a lifelong learner who believes he can learn something new from everyone he meets every day. He enjoys hikes around the county, gardening and playing volleyball.
Good Times caught up with him while he is preparing for the 23rd Pride parade:
Good Times: Rob, what does Pride mean for you and how did you get involved in the event?
- Pride to me means visibility and celebration. Historically, Pride means protesting and standing up for equal rights for all. All of the Pride events are a commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots led by two transgender people of color. Today, Pride is a reminder of the rights that have been earned and a reminder that there is still work to do. People will experience this during the various events during SC Pride weekend June 2-4.
How Is Santa Cruz Pride different from similarly-themed events in other places?
- Santa Cruz Pride always starts off the Pride season across the country on the first weekend in June. We are unique from many other places because of the inclusive community that exists across the county. Santa Cruz County has become the county that we are because of the LGBTQ+ community and the LGBTQ+ community has become who we are because of Santa Cruz County. I think that Santa Cruz County is the most inclusive and welcoming county across the U.S. and the Santa Cruz Pride parade and festival celebrates this every year!
You are approaching the 50th Anniversary of Santa Cruz Pride in two years. What does it mean to have such a long-lasting event and what will you do differently for the anniversary?
- The first Santa Cruz Pride festival took place in 1975 and was a four-day event that included music, dancing and workshops that culminated with a celebration in San Lorenzo Park. This first event included a tug of war across the San Lorenzo River with music and booths. The parade began in 1977 down Pacific just like it is today. We have convened a 50th Anniversary Planning Committee. We hope that all entities throughout our county—arts and performance organizations, businesses, schools, media, organizations and government groups—will all be part of the month-long celebration in some way in 2025.
The LGBTQ+ community has made so many great strides to be accepted by an often-threatening conservative community, but now, in so many places, things that were once unthinkable are normal, such as marriage and Pride parades. What are the biggest accomplishments you’ve seen in your lifetime?
- I don’t think acceptance is the right word to use. Acceptance suggests that some groups of people are already accepted while others need to be accepted.
- The more important concept is about basic human rights where everyone is included, everyone belongs and everyone is celebrated for who they are and however they identify. These great strides are most evident across Santa Cruz County. The biggest accomplishments across our county are first, the many vibrant and amazing LGBTQ+ organizations that exist across our county, including the Diversity Center, Pajaro Valley Pride, Queer Youth Task Force, Safe Schools Project, The Neighbors, Raices y Carino Family Center, LGBTQ+ focused mental health support organizations such as Encompass and Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance (PVPSA), LGBTQ+ therapists and the amazing LGBTQ+ individuals of all ages who stand up for our rights every day in their schools and workplaces.
Second, the many ways our schools and school districts support our LGBTQ+ youth across our county such as the third year of raising the rainbow flag in May and June.
Finally, the many laws passed and enforced by our local legislators and government officials who continue to speak out and stand up for the rights and diversity of all people in our community.
More and more in recent years the community has been under attack by dictators and authoritarians from Hungary to Florida. Should we be scared? Threatened? How can we turn it around?
- I appreciate those who are concerned about places other than Santa Cruz County and the State of California, but I choose to focus my time to further build on the inclusive culture that developed across the county beginning in the 1970s. In addition to the many inclusive laws and policies that exist in our state, county, universities, schools and school districts, there is a common expectation that all people, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, belong and are valued members of our community. Diversity is our strength and something to be celebrated. We validate our commitment to this diversity by showing up at events such as the Martin Luther King March for the Dream, the Asian American Cultural Celebration, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, the annual Juneteenth Celebration, the Women’s Marches, Native American events, the annual Pride parade and festival and at other cultural gatherings across our county.
Haters say that the LGBTQ community and drag performers are threatening and grooming children by doing things such as reading to kids in libraries or getting married or being vocal in parades.
Will there ever be a bridge between right wing critics and those who are underrepresented and seeking normalcy and equal rights? What can both sides do to come to an understanding? Is it even possible? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
- Personally, I am an eternal optimist. Diversity across our county is our strength. For some, when they are uncomfortable with people not like themselves, or art forms they have not experienced, they express this in unhealthy ways. I would like to invite the members of our county who feel that drag is “threatening and grooming children” to come to a meeting where we can talk about our common experiences, share our respective stories and learn about the important contributions and vibrant history of drag to increase our understanding of one another and why we value our inclusive community. Dialogue and conversation lead to better understandings that result in a better community for all.
What are your goals for the community over the next few years and for the long term and how can we get there?
- First, there are hurts in our community that surfaced because of the anonymous transphobic and homophobic letter that was published. Our community needs to come together to address these issues so we as an LGBTQ+ community and as the Santa Cruz County community can move forward. Any hate speech or hate actions impact everyone in our county, and therefore, everyone in our county has a role in the longer-term healing and our ultimate goal of being a model of inclusivity throughout our county. We are fortunate to have the Diversity Center, which has been a leader and a healer in our LGBTQ+ community for more than 30 years.
- Second, our SC Pride Board is working on planning next year’s Pride Parade and Festival and planning for our 50th Anniversary in 2025.
- Third, Pride is not something that is just celebrated for one day in June but is a mindset of celebrating our rich cultures, genders and sexualities across our county throughout the year. We hope to collaboratively host other events with others to celebrate our common diversity.
- We look forward to being part of the other Pride celebrations nearby. Monterey Peninsula Pride on July 15; Pajaro Valley Pride on August 20 and Salinas Valley Pride on October 14.