Pride Month — How far can a community go?

My daughter has scheduled brain surgery the end of next month, so I’m going to be making a rare trip back to Fresno. I know I can’t do anything about her medical condition, but I want to be there to shoulder my share of the helpless burden all the family will suffer that day. I’ll be praying.

Yesterday, I called my dear old friend Shelley, one of my first fans when I played in the coffee houses back in 1968. I always try to visit her when I’m in town. We sang together at the Catacombs Coffee House back then, and more than 50 years ago we even wrote a song together. I can prove it. I have a tape. I told her I was coming to town, and we set up a lunch date at her favorite Chinese restaurant in Clovis. A special joy — she sent me a couple of tracks from her first album, in production right now with other musician friends of mine. Cool stuff.

Somehow, my coming to Fresno is big news, and the word got out. This morning, I got a call from Linda, another dear old friend from that era who lives still lives in the Tower District.

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As we talked, she told me her church was one of nine or 10 Fresno churches that marched in the recent 34th annual Gay Pride Parade. After we finished talking (we’re not going to be able to meet during my trip to Fresno because she will be attending the Sweets Mill Folk Music Camp near Shaver Lake that week), I was curious about what happened at the June 1 Gay Pride Parade in the Tower District this year, so I started surfin’.

I’ve been gone from Fresno for about 30 years, and during that time the Gay Pride Parade obviously has grown and flourished. The little three or four block parade that lasted just a few minutes that I remember — with protesters like the KKK — has morphed into a cheerful, all-day celebration of equality and acceptance in multiple venues. First, there’s the two-hour parade in the Tower District (that featured more than 100 floats), and then the celebration continued during a seven-hour festival at Fresno City College featuring more than 200 vendors, more than 40 food trucks, a kids’ area, live entertainment and even a beer garden. Free shuttle buses from the city bus company hauled participants from the Tower District to FCC and back — about a 15-minute walk. A contingent from a local television station marched. Fresno Unified School District students marched behind the district’s banner. Why, Fresno’s mayor even joined the parade for the first time this year.

According to a news story on a local television station, thousands of Fresno residents lined Olive Avenue to attend the event and celebrate gay pride. (Click here to see a video of the event).

In fact, according to one of the promoters, it’s become the third largest gay pride event in California. Wow — my old neighborhood.