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After pushback to drag show event, LGBTQ community finds a new ally in Fresno City Council

Esther Quintanilla
Tracie Cisneros monitors the crowd of anti-LGBTQ+ protestors outside the all-ages Fresno Drag Festival at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in the downtown area.

FRESNO, Calif. — When her daughter expressed she was part of the LGBTQ+ community a few years ago, Isabel Ramos did everything she could to support her. Ramos began learning about the history and wanted to make her daughter feel welcome.

“I would hear her constantly talk about how she wanted to go see drag queens that were part of RuPaul's Drag Race or ‘Dragula,’” Ramos said. “And I thought to myself, why don’t we bring a family friendly show to Fresno?”

In 2017, Ramos hosted one of the first family-friendly drag shows in the city. It was a friendly environment that Ramos said was an alternative to late-night events for kids, teenagers and adults.

This year, the festival was planned to be held at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, an LGBTQ+ friendly congregation near downtown Fresno. But Ramos was confused when the event’s Facebook page flooded with disturbing comments. The church had also received complaint calls about the show.

On the day of the show, about 50 protestors surrounded the church where the event was being held. They blocked the entryways into the church’s parking lot. They carried signs that read “Sodom and Gomorrah” and “Leviticus 18:22,” which are popular scriptures that condemn the LGBTQ+ community. Some of the protestors took pictures and videos of families entering the event while yelling anti-LBGTQ+ slurs and obscenities.

“We’ve had this event for four years,” Ramos said. “We’ve promoted it all over social media. It’s never gained so much pushback like it did this year.”

Esther Quintanilla
Isabel Ramos wears a straight ally pride flag as a cape over her dress during the all-ages drag festival.

Fresno area LGBTQ+ residents still face challenges in the community. For example, over half of LGBTQ+ youth seeking medical care in Fresno County have experienced some form of discrimination, according to research gathered from state and local organizations. The same research shows one in five patients who identify as transgender have been turned away by their healthcare provider, and roughly 84 percent of LGBTQ+ patients choose not to disclose their sexual orientation to their doctor.

On top of navigating the healthcare landscape, the community also grapples with public backlash to events like the church drag show event.

According to the Fresno Police Department, some protestors of the recent church drag show event were members of the Proud Boys – a far-right extremist group. Fresno police quickly identified the group as they waved flags and wore clothing with the name of the group.

The event had initially drawn condemnation online from Councilmember Garry Bredefeld, who called the event “sickening and disgraceful.” But after protesters showed up at the church, event organizers continued to push back against the negative reaction, even at the Fresno City Council meeting this week – where the LGBTQ+ community has a new ally.

During the public comment period at Thursday's city council meeting, attendees of the drag event called for Bredefeld to apologize for his comments on social media.

“Your post was one filled with anger, hate and disgust, which altered the course of what happened that day,” said Ramos, the event organizer, as she addressed Bredefeld in front of the council. “The words you wrote go against the oath you took upon taking office as councilman.”

Ramos believes the protest against the event was sparked after Bredefeld’s comments.

Bredefeld, however, continued to defend his social media posts.

“I wrote what I did on Facebook and I stand behind every word,” Bredefeld said. “I am going to continue to speak out about things that I think are destructive in our community. I will not be silenced no matter what.”

The Fresno City Council meeting was not only marked by a continued backlash against Bredefeld’s comments, but also by the walkout of the council in the middle of the meeting. It was also the first day on the council for Annalisa Perea, the council’s first openly-gay member.

Fresno City Council, District 1
Annalisa Perea is sworn-in during a private ceremony by her brother, former city councilmember Henry T. Perea on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.

Perea said she never expected to walk out on her first meeting. But anti-LGBTQ+ comments made on the dais became too personal.

“Words can be pretty heavy, especially when they’re targeted towards the LGBTQ community,” she said.

Perea said Bredefeld has a right to state his opinion, but she felt the need to step out. She added that representation matters for her community and that she feels a responsibility to be a voice for Fresno’s LGBTQ+ residents.

“I don’t take it lightly that I am the first out LGBTQ+ member on the Fresno City Council. There may have been others before me. However, I think the key word is ‘out,’” she said.

Perea was sworn-in during a private ceremony at City Hall a day before, with her family by her side. Perea takes over District One’s history of supporting LGBTQ+ rights. Her predecessor, now-Assembly member Esmeralda Soria was behind the raising of the Pride flag for the first time at City Hall during Pride Month in June.

“We're extremely lucky that we had such incredible allies,” she said. “I will be carrying that torch forward and looking forward to continuing a lot of these traditions that my colleagues and my predecessor have started.”

This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.
Soreath Hok is a multimedia journalist with experience in radio, television and digital production. She is a 2022 National Edward R. Murrow Award winner. At KVPR she covers local government, politics and other local news.