It may seem unfathomable to some, but being gay was a crime in 1969 in New York City. Habitually harassed by law enforcement, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, resisted and rioted against a police raid and in so doing galvanized the Gay Rights Movement. The following year, gay communities throughout the nation embraced the term “Gay Pride” and commemorated Stonewall that June. Pride Months have returned every June since. This year, however, due to the quarantine, the way we celebrate will be markedly different.
“This year will have a different feel than any other year that I can remember in my lifetime, as Prides have been canceled across the country,” says Gary Saperstein, founder of Out in the Vineyard, an experiential Wine Country event and travel company for the LGBTQ+ community. “It is quite disheartening to know that we will not be able to gather as a community to celebrate who we are today and those who came before us.”
The need to abide by shelter-in-place orders notwithstanding, there is also the need to support and celebrate a community that has endured growing prejudice during this politically-fraught era. According to FBI data, hate crimes committed against LGBTQ+ people have been on the rise in the past few years. Last August, the Trump administration filed an amicus brief effectively asking the Supreme Court to legalize anti-gay workplace discrimination. Even locally, a prominent Sonoma real estate developer posted some anti-gay speech on social media.
As reported in the Sonoma Index-Tribune in April 2019, it came to light that developer Stacy Mattson had made anti-gay Facebook posts in the past (they are no longer visible, though screenshots of the posts still circulate online). The public outcry was instant and led to calls to boycott businesses owned by Mattson who, with her husband Ken Mattson, had spent recent years acquiring 26 properties throughout Sonoma Valley at a cost of $80 million.
“It hit me over the head and I realized that they probably are not the only ones who feel that way,” says Saperstein, who has lived in Sonoma for 25 years and says he never felt homophobia in the wine-country burg. “This was my impetus for wanting to create and send a message of equality here in Sonoma.”
Saperstein will do just that with his recent victory for LGBTQ+ visibility; this June, Gay Pride–themed banners will adorn the Historic Sonoma Plaza for the first time in history.
The banners were unanimously approved by the City of Sonoma’s Design Review and Historic Preservation Commission and will remain present through the month of June. They will also become an annual plaza tradition.
“I wanted to find a way to make a statement that would resonate with all that Sonoma is an inclusive community that believes in equality,” Saperstein says. “These Pride Banners will showcase that for locals and visitors alike.”
Designed by Matthew Long, each banner is sponsored by a Sonoma Valley business and features a different color from the rainbow flag. People can make a positive contribution by supporting businesses that “support all” suggests Saperstein, who is also director of development at Face to Face, which has endeavored to address the challenges presented by the HIV epidemic in Sonoma County since the ’80s.
“I do believe it is everyone’s right to choose what businesses they want to support,” he says. “I also believe that everyone should be educated and informed in order to make that decision for themselves. Personally, I cannot support a business that will donate money to groups and organizations that do not believe in equality and discriminate.”
The Gay Pride banners coming to Sonoma’s plaza are among Saperstein’s many accomplishments in recent years. He has raised over $400,000 for Face to Face, and Out In The Vineyard has become a beloved nexus for the LGBTQ+ community. Saperstein, however, is quick to direct the applause to other local organizations such as Positive Images and LGBTQ Connection, which support queer youth, and to Sonoma’s Vintage House, which has a very active senior LGBTQ+ group.
“Pride, to me, is about community and connection,” Saperstein says. “It is a coming together of a group of people who believe in each other and want to see each other succeed. Pride celebrates who we are and where we are today. It serves as a reminder of those that came before us. We can never forget our history and how we got to where we are today so we can go further into the future.”