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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.

What's in store for LGBT events this summer in Sonoma County

"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.
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.

Of all the North Bay, Sonoma County, particularly the Russian River area, offers the most events, lodging, and entertainment serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) visitors.

“Sonoma County draws LBGT visitors because we’re known as a very inclusive and progressive community. We’ve been that way for a very long time,” said Todd O’Leary, vice president of marketing and communications for Sonoma County Tourism.

O’Leary said targeted events, including Gay Wine Weekend, Lazy Bear, Russian River Women’s Weekend, and Sonoma County Pride (which was held May 31 through June 2) promote the county’s visibility, encouraging tourism through media attention and word of mouth.

“We engage in marketing efforts and media relations communications that span the globe. We have dedicated markets in San Francisco, the greater Bay Area, and Sacramento, and also areas to which Santa Rosa airport flies, including Denver, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. We showcase the events as well as LGBT-owned businesses and experiences,” said O’Leary.

“We have a dedicated LGBT landing page on our website that includes special interest articles, such as Sonoma County’s most gay-friendly visitor spots and five tips for planning your gay wedding. We’re envisioning a video series that’s going to launch in 2020 that serves up unique stories about what makes Sonoma County so special. I would love for one of those stories to be an LGBT story.”

Guerneville and the Russian River resort area remain the “hot spot” for LGBTQIA visitors, said Michael Volpatt, owner of Big Bottom Market and co-owner of Equality Vines.

“Guerneville’s the Fire Island of the West. We have a real mix of gay entrepreneurs up here that make the area even more gay-friendly than it already is. As a community, we do our best to take matters into our own hands and promote the area,” said Volpatt.

David Barker, president of Lazy Bear, a “getaway” event originally marketed to the “bear community” of gay men, said he has expanded his event from a weekend to a week. Barker said Lazy Bear is and always has been open to people of all sexual orientations.

“This will be our 23rd year in Guerneville to offer a party with a purpose. Lazy Bear Week, which will run from Monday, July 29, to Monday, Aug. 5, will raise money for Sonoma County nonprofit organizations, including food banks like Food for Thought and LBGT organizations that build community and provide health care,” said Barker.

Lazy Bear Week’s schedule includes pool parties, dance parties, nature hikes, barbecues, wine tours, game nights, bonfires, and live entertainment, including comics and drag shows.

“On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we will have five parties going on simultaneously. Last year, we saw 1,032 people buy a daily pass on Friday and 2,027 buy a daily pass on Saturday,” said Barker.

Barker said this year, the start of Lazy Bear will coincide with the end of the Folsom Street Fair.

“We will provide bus service from San Francisco to Guerneville on Saturday and Sunday. Participants can come for however long they want, from a day to the whole week,” said Barker.

Ryan Miller, chief marketing officer for AutoCamp, which offers luxury camping in Airstream trailers along the Russian River, said the company’s openly LGBTQ-inviting advertising and involvement in local LBGTQ events ensure that it sees a diverse range of customers.

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.

What's in store for LGBT events this summer in Sonoma County

"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.
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.

“AutoCamp is all about being fun, inviting and inclusive. From a marketing standpoint, we try to use imagery that includes same sex couples, people of color, and women. We engage in conversations with other Guerneville and Sonoma County businesses to work on campaigns and promotions together. This year, we’ll kick off Pride Month with a panel discussion of local LGBTQ entrepreneurs about the challenges of starting and operating a LGBT-friendly business,” said Miller.

Elise VanDyne, executive director of the Russian River Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Centers, said the Russian River area will have its own Pride event in late July.

VanDyne said the RROC doesn’t set out to do something specifically different from other areas.

“The majority of our board members are LGBT. (That we’re welcoming to all) is in the fabric of the chamber. We do have a separate website, Gay Russian River (www.russianrivertravel.com/gay/). We’re very careful at the visitor center to ask people about what kind of experience they’re looking for,” said VanDyne.

VanDyne said the Chamber also engages in social media campaigns that support LGBTQIA tourism, such as August having a spotlight on Pride and LGBTQ tourism.

Gary Saperstein, owner of Out in the Vineyard, a LGBT event and travel company, said showcasing Sonoma County’s wine industry brings many LGBTQIA visitors to the area.

“Out in the Vineyard puts on Gay Wine Weekend, which runs July 19 through 21 this year. The event benefits Face 2 Face, Sonoma County’s HIV/AIDS network. Gay Wine Weekend is a food and wine event featuring the Twilight T-Dance for LGBT people and allies. Last year, we drew almost 700 people from all over the Bay Area and the country. Out in the Vineyard also puts on Pink Sonoma Saturday, a rosé celebration, in early May. In addition, we offer tours and concierge service,” said Saperstein.

Saperstein said wineries are interested in participating in LGBT events because they see the value in marketing to the community.

“In 2008, when the economy faltered, is when everybody started to do niche marketing. For the most part, it didn’t take much convincing at all,” said Saperstein.

Chelsea Rose Kurnick, vice chair on the board for Positive Images, said the nonprofit is making an effort to make sure that events are friendly to all gender identities, queer people of all stripes, and people with disabilities, as well as those from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“I and others would like to see programming that feels specifically queer-inclusive. We have a vibrant LGBTQIA community and people in the county who want to see ourselves reflected. Visitors definitely want to feel safe and welcomed. We want events that are made by queer people or at least consult queer people if we are the desired audience. One event that succeeds at this is the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival, which works with OUTwatch (a Wine Country LGBTQI film festival) on their LGBTQIA programming,” said Kurnick.

Kurnick said she is working on organizing additional queer-welcoming events for this summer.

“On June 16, I’m putting on Father’s Gay, a queer music festival at Whiskey Tip. I’m working on an LGBTQ+ bus tour of Sonoma County as well. I and others at Positive Images are interested in promoting events like drag shows that appeal to a younger crowd and attract an audience from the broader Bay Area,” said Kurnick.