A group of local LGBTQ community members, along with their friends and families, flocked to downtown Hollister to kick off the start of Pride Month in San Benito County.
Aislinn Barnes of Hollister had the privilege of raising the rainbow pride flag in front of dozens of supporters at the City Hall building on Tuesday.
The San Benito High senior said being able to leave something behind such as the Pride flag felt like some type of purpose she had finally been able to fulfill.
“It really felt like a good sense of pride for me and a really good fulfilling moment for everything that I’d been working on,” she said.
Hollister City Councilman Rolan Resendiz said it was a beautiful and historic moment for the city that he hopes people will look back on for a long time.
“We want to be on the right side of history and when it comes down to it, everything put aside, the difference between right and wrong, this is the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s going to create a better future. It’s all about love and acceptance, what more can you ask for?”
Celebrated annually in June, Pride Month acknowledges the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Manhattan, a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States.
Pride events are held all over the world on or around June 28 to celebrate the LGBTQ community. Last year, the City of Hollister raised the pride flag on that day at City Hall.
This year, the city council decided to raise the flag for the entire month of June but it came with some backlash by council members and the community.
In April, the city council passed two resolutions that resulted in having the flag flown on its own pole. The first resolution was passed, 4-1, for the installation of two additional flagpoles in front of City Hall.
Next was the raising of the LGBTQ flag for the month of June, which resulted in a 3-2 vote.
Councilman Rick Perez and former councilwoman Honor Spencer were against the flag raising because of concerns that could result in lawsuits by other organizations if their flags were denied for whatever reason.
Barnes spoke at the city council meeting and noted that a big reason people were against the flag raising was because they didn’t see the need for it.
“To them, I say you speaking out against it shows how much we need it,” she said. “You take back your own point when you speak out, when you show hate.”
Barnes believes they are on the right track and there’s so much more that needs to be done. She said they won’t be stopped by those who are against the LGBTQ community because they’ll keep pushing forward until people eventually hop on the bandwagon of acceptance.
“It’s a lot prettier here than in a little field of hate,” she said.
Perez was present at Tuesday’s ceremony along with Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, San Benito County Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki and San Juan Bautista Mayor Leslie Jordan.
Velazquez said that both Resendiz and Jordan made history by becoming the first openly gay elected officials in San Benito County.
Velazquez mentioned during the ceremony that displaying the flag is very important and he’s aware that there are some who are opposed to it.
“What I keep telling everyone [is] it’s time to let go of hate, start to embrace love and respect for everyone,” he said.
On May 29, Jordan hosted a pride flag raising ceremony in San Juan Bautista. Neighboring cities such as Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Salinas and Watsonville all raised the LGBTQ flag, as well.
“It just goes to show that our neighbors and the area that we live in is a safe, welcoming, warm inclusive place,” Resendiz said.
For Barnes, the pride flag has always represented inclusivity, togetherness and love.
“People may see me as different, people may not support me but that flag is always a standard that whoever looks at it, no matter what they think, it’s up there and it’s showing that I am supported,” she said. “We’re all in this together.”
Resendiz said it’s youngsters such as Barnes who inspire him because she was brave enough to reach out to talk at the city council meeting. It’s things like her passionate speech about the pride flag that motivates him the most.
“We need them to carry on the torch for us,” he said. “Keep pushing mountains and keep pushing the path for a better life for all of us.”
Barnes was the president of the Gay-Straight Alliances club at San Benito High for the past three years. She admitted that there hasn’t been a big population of students who have openly come out.
Barnes said most of the students she worked with did not come out or perhaps were partially out to their parents but they weren’t supportive.
But, she’s always referred herself as the “gay mom” or a big sister. She said maybe even some type of role model for a lot of the youth because they don’t have a whole lot of people to look up to.
Barnes said she wants to continue to be a role model and going out to Tuesday’s pride flag raising ceremony was just a scratch on the surface.
“In a way, I am kind of the voice and that’s all I’ve been trying to be,” she said.