Art shows, entertainment increasingly draw LGBT visitors to Napa, Marin counties

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North Bay summer of pride

About 4,500 people are expected at the three-day event to kick off Pride Month in June. The festival includes a Saturday parade through downtown Santa Rosa.
"We have a real mix of gay entrepreneurs up here that make the area even more gay-friendly than it already is," said Michael Volpatt, owner of Big Bottom Market and co-owner of Equality Vines.

Why Marin and Napa increasingly seek LGBT visitors

While Sonoma County has been in the spotlight for LGBTQIA-friendly events and venues for decades, the counties to the south and east this summer have a growing number of events aimed at visitors.

LGBTQIA tourism is growing in Marin and Napa counties, building on events for locals and spotlighting the unique offerings of each county. Marin places an emphasis on the arts and outdoor recreation. Napa highlights the wine industry and fine dining.

Both counties, as Sonoma County, do not collect statistics specifically on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer visitors. Yet Marin visitor board website and Napa’s tourism website include images of same-sex couples and notices of LBGTQIA-related events.

“We welcome LGBT visitors from the Bay Area and beyond coming north and enjoying our ‘backyard’ after spending a few days in San Francisco (for pride month events). We want to send them a very welcoming, open, comfortable message,” said Mark Essman, president of the Marin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Angela Jackson, director of media relations for Visit Napa Valley, said, “Throughout the month of June, a rainbow flag will fly prominently in front of Napa’s City Hall to symbolize gay rights and celebrate gay pride. Napa Valley welcomes all visitors. We will showcase LGBTQIA events on our website and through partnerships with local businesses.”

HOW EVENTS SHAPE MARIN’S APPROACH

Essman said Marin County has a smaller population and tourism budget than Napa and Sonoma counties.

“Outdoor recreation is our bread and butter. Ninety percent of our visitors are outdoor-related. We don’t try to showcase the wineries, although we have a variety of attractions. If we try to sell our visitors something we’re not, they won’t come back,” said Essman.

Essman said Marin County markets itself as an affordable alternative to San Francisco and wine country. The Marin tourism bureau also works closely with San Francisco Travel, the city’s travel association.

“When there’s some overlap with their events, we’ll co-promote or push what they’re doing. We don’t try to compete. We just enhance what they do,” said Essman.

Dana Van Gorder, interim executive director of The Spahr Center, a nonprofit organization serving Marin’s LGBTQ community, said the center is not heavily involved in promoting tourism.

“We hold many social events, but their focus is primarily on local members of the LGBTQ community. People from Sonoma County and San Francisco often participate. We hold an annual Marin Pride Picnic at Piper Park in Larkspur. This year it’s on June 22, the weekend before San Francisco’s Pride Parade. The picnic has attracted about 300 people in past years. We are happy to see it continue to grow,” said Van Gorder.

Yet partly because Marin County is easily accessible from San Francisco and the East Bay, the county draws LGBTQIA visitors for arts events.

Louis Briones, executive director of the Sausalito Art Festival, said it has a long-standing relationship with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir.

“Some of our outreach to the LGBT community is centered through them. They include our events when they share with their members and fans,” Briones said.

The choir also sponsors the festival, which runs from Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 this year.

Briones said the festival’s board is very open and diverse.

“Because of that, it’s almost a given that we are welcoming. You see that reflected in our 30,000-plus attendance and when same-sex couples come to our gala dances and musical performances,” said Briones.

Karen Davis, senior programmer for the Mill Valley Film Festival, said a number of the event’s films and related events, like director talks, attract LGBTQIA visitors from throughout the Bay Area and beyond.

North Bay summer of pride

About 4,500 people are expected at the three-day event to kick off Pride Month in June. The festival includes a Saturday parade through downtown Santa Rosa.
"We have a real mix of gay entrepreneurs up here that make the area even more gay-friendly than it already is," said Michael Volpatt, owner of Big Bottom Market and co-owner of Equality Vines.

Why Marin and Napa increasingly seek LGBT visitors

While Sonoma County has been in the spotlight for LGBTQIA-friendly events and venues for decades, the counties to the south and east this summer have a growing number of events aimed at visitors.

“LGBTQIA-friendly films are regularly featured in our year-round education programs as well as at the Mill Valley Film Festival in our U.S., documentary, World Cinema, and short films (categories). (They are also featured as part of) our gender equity initiative, Mind the Gap, (and as part of our) Active Cinema initiative that inspires audiences to engage in positive social change. LGBTQIA programming was significantly highlighted in 2018 as a MVFF Focus section we called ‘Queer-ish,’ ” said Davis.

The film festival regularly engages in community partnerships and in some cases co-presentations of LGBTQIA films with local LGBTQIA organizations.

“We request that our community partners send an email blast about our LGBTQIA-friendly films and promote our screenings through their social media and print publications. We provide complimentary tickets for our LGBTQIA community partners, sponsors and co-presenters,” said Davis.

The film festival, which takes place Oct. 3 through 13 this year, tries to make LGBTQIA filmmakers and guests of the Festival feel at home.

“If requested, we are happy to help them find filmmaking resources or organizations they might want to connect with while they’re here, including local filmmakers right here in Marin.” said Davis.

Davis said the goal of the film festival is to leave visitors with the idea that, “I feel welcomed, supported, and inspired by my experience at MVFF. Maybe I’ll make my next film here.”

CREATING A SCENE IN NAPA

In Napa County, grassroots organization has become key to promoting LGBTQIA tourism.

Ian Stanley Posadas, program director for LGBTQ Connection, a nonprofit that covers Napa and Sonoma counties, said LGBTQIA tourism began taking off in Napa about six years ago.

“In 2013, the tourism improvement district in the city of Napa put up 26 rainbow banners for pride month for the first time. This is a big deal in Napa County. For years, LGBTQ people felt invisible to our local leaders and ignored by the tourism industry,” said Posadas.

Posadas said LGBTQ Connection is now working with staff, businesses and communities throughout Napa Valley to put on inviting and open events.

“Last year we had a pride cookout at Kennedy Park where 200 people came to celebrate together. We can’t wait to do that again this year (on June 29). We’re also hosting a drag and dance show in Calistoga on June 22. We’re super excited to bring back the Drag Queens of the Valley benefit show and brunch on June 7 and June 8, respectively. About 500 people attended last year’s sold-out show in downtown Napa,” said Stanley Posadas.

Stanley Posadas said LGBTQ Connection wants to hold regular, visible, fun events throughout Napa Valley, even in smaller towns like American Canyon.

“It’s amazing to see the momentum that these events generate. LGBTQIA-friendly programming benefits visitors, boosts the local economy, and positively changes the environment for residents. It’s a win for everyone,” said Stanley Posadas.

Visit Napa Valley official Jackson said she is a big fan of the buzz that LGBTQ Connection is creating.

“Last year, I got to the drag show 15 minutes before showtime. The line was around the block,” said Jackson.

She said Napa County hopes to share the excitement of performances and events with tourists.

“We’re a more peaceful escape from San Francisco, yet also have a fun nightlife with live music and bars in downtown Napa for both locals and visitors to enjoy,” said Jackson.

Napa Valley’s wineries, breweries, distilleries, and eateries play a role in actively inviting LGBTQIA visitors.

Jackson said Gran Electrica, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Napa, will serve a specialty cocktail in celebration of gay pride month. The restaurant will donate a portion of the proceeds of the cocktails sold to LGBTQ Connection.

Stephanie Honig, spokesperson for Honig Vineyard and Winery, said it is publicizing the fact that a portion of June’s tasting room fees will be donated to The Trevor Project.

The Trevor Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.

“We’re sending an email about it to our customers. We share what we are doing through social media. We will also place table tents on our tasting room tables. Our plastic wine cups will have the Trevor Project logo next to the Honig logo.” said Honig.

Matt Cromwell, co-owner of Tannery Bend Beerworks in Napa, said he plans to hold a LGBTQ “Drink and Donate” night on June 20. Donations will go to LGBTQIA causes.

Cromwell decided to hold the event because LGBTQIA locals regularly visit his business.

“Our LGBTQIA patrons are simply our friends. We just love to help our friends. If we can use our small platform in any way to help out people we consider our friends, we’re going to do it without hesitation,” said Cromwell.

Cromwell said he feels good about creating an inclusive and inviting environment at Tannery Bend. He would like to see LGBTQIA-friendly events become more common.

“We’d love to see more businesses involved. We’d love to see acceptance get to the point that conversations … about showing support and love to (everyone) aren’t necessary,” said Cromwell.

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