Rise Simi Valley Hosts its first Pride picnic, car rally


Kaitlyn Lavo

Richard Grey embraces his friend Emma at Simi Valley Pride in Simi Valley, Calif. on June 26, 2021.

Kaitlyn Lavo, Staff Photographer

Rainbows and smiles filled the Rancho Simi Community Park as families and community members of Simi Valley, Calif. came together to celebrate Pride on June 26.

Simi Valley Pride, hosted by Rise Simi Valley, brought LGBTQIA+ community members and allies of all ages and backgrounds to celebrate with local vendors, live music and delicious food. The day was filled with community, families and love as performers and speakers showcased their talents and discussed local issues that affect the Simi Valley community.

“When you elevate our Pride in towns like this, you elevate pride across the country,” community member Marna Deitch said.

Local artist Victoria Salas, one of the vendors at the event, sold her prints, “Subtle Pride,” for the celebration. Her prints showcase portraits in a variety of colors based on the LGBTQIA+ community flags.

“Simi has always had a bad rep for stuff like this, especially in such a red city, but I think it’s great that we can come out as our little LGBT family and be able to celebrate something like this in our hometown … I’m really proud of Simi for being able to do this,” Salas said.

The voices of inspirational community leaders rang through the microphone, including local attorney and event sponsor, Renay Grace Rodriguez.

“That’s when we create change, when you come out and trust that when we lock arms together, hold hands together, we can create change,” Rodriguez told the crowd. “This picnic today represents a change in Simi Valley … the greatest enemy of democracy is apathy … Do not feel disheartened, you will find many on the pathway who are fighting for the rights of every single human out there. We deserve housing, sustenance, we deserve education, a safe environment to live in. We deserve equity.”

Cassandra Douglas, Rise Simi Valley’s director of advocacy, spoke on the importance of this local event to the Simi Valley community and responded to prior events regarding the City Council.

Cassandra Douglas, Rise Simi Valley’s director of advocacy, speaks at the Simi Valley Pride at Rancho Simi Community Park in Simi Valley, Calif. on June 26, 2021. She reminded the crowd about the origins of Pride and what it means for the Simi Valley Community. (Kaitlyn Lavo)

“On June 7, City Council, they showed us — three city council members and our mayor showed us how they feel about us,” Douglas said. “They refused to second a motion to even have a discussion about flying a Pride flag. And now we are here, as you can see, proud of all the flags we could get our hands on. We are here to show the city council that we will be seen and we will be heard.”

The theme surrounding this small-scale community pride revolved around family. Children and their parents, both dressed in rainbow attire, set up picnic blankets around the park. New friends were made and old ones came together after a long year and a half of separation.

City Councilmember Ruth Luevanos showed up in support of the Simi LGBTQIA+ community, greeted by a thunderous chant from a welcoming crowd yelling “Ruth! Ruth! Ruth!” to show gratitude for her continuous support and work she has done for minority groups in Simi Valley.

Preschool teacher and member of the LGBTQIA+ community Erika Wolfe brought Serphanie, her pet ball python, to educate the park goers about snakes and express the importance of love and family when it comes to Pride.

Pre-school teacher Erika Wolfe, right, brings her pet ball python Serphanie to Simi Valley Pride in Simi Valley, Calif. on June 26, 2021. Grant Keller, left, carefully holds Serphanie — his first time holding a snake. (Kaitlyn Lavo)

“I teach families, as long as you’re loved,” Wolfe said.“That’s what a family does, it just loves … That’s how we start, we start teaching them young that this is just about family and love.”