by Michelle Wing    

And in English, that means: “I made history! Oct. 11, 2011 Napa LGBTQ Community Forum.”

This is the rainbow-bright but- ton that sits on my desk now, a colorful reminder of the Tuesday night meeting I had the honor to attend – both as a member of the LGBTQ community, and as the only media representative invited.

Ian Stanley, the organizer of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning forum asked me not because I’m the greatest reporter in the valley – he asked me because he trusted me to keep the identities and con- fidences of all of the attendees safe. Because the biggest concern for everyone was to create a safe place for all to come together to talk about what we could do to make Napa Valley a better place. First and foremost was to ensure that every participant could arrive in that room knowing that who we were on the outside could be left on the outside, if that was our

choice. And “coming out” in the forum didn’t have to mean “com- ing out” to the entire valley.

That’s the tricky part about organizing in the LGBTQ com- munity. At least, that could be the tricky part. But you should have seen that room full of people. It

was as if all 200 of them had just been sitting around waiting for that invitation.

We came from every back- ground, every group. There were dozens and dozens of young peo- ple, and seniors, and everyone in between. There was as much Spanish being spoken as English. I’ve never seen anyone so suc- cessfully bring together Anglos and Latinos.

It was a 50/50 split with men and women. There were folks from upvalley, down valley, Napans, Calistogans, those from American Canyon. We had spiked hair, long hair, shaved heads, pink hair, conservative business hair- cuts, pony tails. Some were queer. Some were straight allies. Some were politicians who came because we were constituents.

All of us laughed, and talked, and brainstormed together, and enjoyed each other’s company. We were in a big multipurpose room at an elementary school,

and it felt a like little vacation, like Gay Day at Great America, where you get to go on all the rides and hold your girlfriend’s hand without worrying about whether or not anybody is going to give you the stink eye.

When I left San Francisco nine years ago and moved to Calistoga, I felt as if I had been dropped into the middle of the equivalent of an Alaskan wilder- ness. I remember feeling so iso- lated. I wanted to stand on my front porch and cup my hand around my mouth and call out, “Hello! Are there any queer peo- ple out there?”

With time, of course, I met people. But it was not like the city. It’s more difficult here. There is no network. There is no place to meet. No community center, no dance clubs, not a strong enough concentration of LGBTQ people for there to be a hub of activity.

That’s what the forum was

designed to address. What can we do? What can we create? And also, what about problems, like harassment, and bullying in schools? Or challenges in access- ing appropriate services in non- profit agencies and medical clin- ics? And simple awareness issues – those too, must be addressed.

On one level, the forum was simply a huge celebration of find- ing each other. Being 200 strong in one room was incredibly empowering for all of us. But it was more than that. We were there to talk about issues that concern us, and things we want to do, places we want to build, dreams we want to help create.

Ian Stanley did something amazing this week. He helped bring together a community that for too long has been split apart from itself.

Let’s keep the momentum going. Call Ian, Napa LGBTQ program director, at (707) 251- 9432 to get involved.

Original Source Calistoga Tribune