By Michelle Wing
Napa County’s gay and lesbian community came out in record numbers to the town hall meeting on Tuesday night in Napa, far exceeding organizers’ expectations.
The Napa LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Questioning) Community Forum, held at McPherson Elementary School on National Coming Out Day, brought 200- plus people together, representing a widely diverse cross-section of the county.
Organizer Ian Stanley, Napa LBGTQ program director, said, “When we first started planning this, we thought we’d only be able to get 40 people to show up. We got five times that.”
Included among the crowd was a contingent of adults from Calistoga, as well as a group of teens from Calistoga Junior Senior High School, accompanied by Safe Schools coordinator Anne Williams.
In his opening remarks, Stanley said, “This is the largest, most diverse gathering of LGBTQ peo- ple ever to come together in Napa County.” The entire room erupted into cheers.
It was a night of celebration and kinship, with rainbow-colored tie-dyed shirts worn by facilita- tors, and buttons for everyone stating, “I Made History! Oct. 11, 2011, Napa Community Forum.”
Stanley shared his own story of growing up in Napa County, going to school and church here, saying he didn’t even feel safe enough to come out to himself until he was 27. He said working with LGBTQ clients at VOICES Youth Center, he now focuses on making young people feel safe. Thinking about the community as a whole, he started having visions of building a community center.
“But what would we do there?”
he asked. “I would like to dream together.”
During the two-hour forum, small teams met together and held brainstorming sessions about what they wanted to work towards to build a healthier, safer, better Napa County for LGBTQ citizens.
Ideas ran the gamut from build- ing a community center to starting support groups, working on public awareness, starting media cam- paigns, having stickers at busi- nesses to show they were gay friendly, mentoring programs for young adults, social activities, anti-bullying and harassment poli- cies at schools, sensitivity training for employers and professionals, better access to medical care, fundraising issues, and more.
At the end of the night, all of the ideas were placed into general categories, and using a concept called “dot-mocracy,” each partic- ipant was given three bright green stickers to “vote” with. All 200 people approached the big white board up front and placed their stickers near the concepts nearest and dearest to their hearts.
The top three vote-getters were 1) Awareness; 2) Community Center; and 3) Schools. These will be the group’s main focus for the coming year.
Stanley said, “I think people are ready to move and to take action on this.... People really want to connect with each other.”
Among the attendees were a number of Napa County politi- cians and officials, including Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht,
California State Assemblyman Michael Allen, Napa Chief of Police Rich Melton, and Joan Bennett, vice mayor of American Canyon.
“This was one of those water- shed moments in our community,” Wagenknect said. “Like most of us, I had very low expectations. I thought I could be one of 20. It was very nice to be one of 200.”
“What we would like to think is that our community is support- ing all of our citizens and the pos- sibility of growing up happy and healthy,” he said, noting that for many young people, adolescence is difficult. “But if you’re not sure about your sexuality, you’re even more alone.”
Wagenknecht was amazed by the varied demographics of the crowd. “It was a remarkable achievement that Ian pulled off,” he said.
Fifteen percent in attendance were from the upvalley, and 65 percent from Napa. Sixty-four per- cent identified as LGBTQ, and 25 percent identified as straight allies.
Twenty-one percent were over 55, 37 percent were between age 25-54, and 40 percent were under the age of 24.
The entire evening was offered in both English and Spanish, and had a strong ethnic mix, with 48 percent of attendees identifying as Anglo, 37 percent as Latino.
Fifty percent of participants were female, 40 percent were male, and three percent identified as transgender.