“Raise High the Rainbow”
Written by Kara Ford-Martinez
Santa Cruz sends a positive message to its queer youth How many young boys have you seen wearing pink shirts and lavender colored sneakers? Probably not many. That’s because other children would tease them if they donned these colors. “That’s so gay” is a commonly heard taunt in schools nationwide where children face homophobia regularly. Even in liberal, lovely Santa Cruz. To combat this, many have bravely spoken up in defense of what it means to be queer. From April 11 to 17, Santa Cruz is sending a message to its queer youth and their allies, to let them know how much the city appreciates the work they have done.
“There’s a perception that Santa Cruz County is a progressive community and yet, in reality, there are many pockets of homophobia,” says Stuart Rosenstein, chair of Santa Cruz County Task Force for LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Intersex and Questioning) children. “Queer youth face discrimination every day, whether it be from parents who don’t allow them to live open, affirming lives, to harassment from peers, to having queer issues and history totally censored in their K-12 curriculum.”
Brandi Foucheaux, a Harbor High School student and president of the Rainbow Society Club says her family is supportive, “but when it comes on the home front, when I bring my girlfriend over, it can be a little bit tense. They’re warming up to it. I’m proud of them because the first step to acceptance is acknowledging that your child is gay.”
Rosentein notes that Wednesday, April 13 is the National Day of Silence, one of the largest national youth movement events, which is designed to give visibility to the silence of homophobia. “There just isn’t enough being done to combat this,” Rosenstein adds.
On this day congressman Sam Farr will express his support for queer youth. Students of all ages, from kindergarten to college, are involved. Harbor High School students plan to hold a rally the day before and speak out on silencing and its effects on queer youth.
Theaters in Santa Cruz have opened their doors to queer themed performances during the week as well. On the stage of the Broadway Playhouse are “R & J” and “A Beautiful Thing,” two plays that deal with queer issues. “R & J” is a modern rendition of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with an all-male cast. “A Beautiful Thing” tells the story of two young men who fall in love in working-class London.
Over at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, stand-up comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer hits the stage April 15. A brave woman—she was one of the first openly gay stand-up comedians—she fearlessly performed gay stand-up to straight audiences in mainstream comedy clubs and went on to win numerous awards, including two from GLAMA (Gay and Lesbian American Music Award).
On April 16, Full Spectrum Chorus comes to life. Celebrating the queer community through song, expect the chorus to perform a variety of music styles, from jazz and classical to musical theatre and pop. The mood ranges from the serious to campy.
“We’re doing a piece called ‘Gender Polka,’ which celebrates and makes fun of all the gender switching that goes on,” says chorus member Yael Lachman. “We often switch the gender roles just for fun.”
The Lionel Cantu GLBTI (Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans and Intersex) Resource Center, at UC Santa Cruz, has set up two special queer events. On April 16 alumni and anyone interested are welcome to the Lavender Reception for refreshments and a look at the gallery. The current exhibition is of lesbian portraits. The following day, April 17, the center has created Gay Day on the Bay, an afternoon of whale watching. The cruise will set sail from Moss Landing Harbor.
The grand finale of the week is the eighth annual Queer Youth Leadership Awards ceremony, by proclamation of the city of Santa Cruz, on April 17 at Santa Cruz High School Auditorium. Five queer youth, 13 allies and two organizations have been nominated.
“I kind of expected it,” says Foucheaux, who was nominated. “But I don’t know who nominated me for the award. That makes me excited, the fact that someone acknowledged me.”
“Even though queer youth issues have been visible in the press lately, they’re generally about homophobic issues,” Rosenstein says. “What’s unique and special about these awards is that they celebrate the positive accomplishments of our young queer people.