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Small Town Pride

Tri-County LGBT Alliance hosts community picnic

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People of all ages gathered last Saturday at Murphys Community Park to enjoy live music and togetherness in the spirit of LGBT acceptance.

The event was hosted by the Tri-County LGBT Alliance, which formed five years ago in response to the 2016 shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where 49 people were killed and 53 others were injured.

“We got together at the Murphys Irish Pub and cried and talked about what we could do,” said Angels Camp resident Dre Vader, who created the alliance with a small group of friends, spearheaded by local actor Sean Lewis. “We decided we didn’t want something like that to happen in our community, and the best thing we can do is be present and bring people together and be active advocates in our community.”

Vader is now the vice president and treasurer for the alliance, which has a board of eight members representing LGBT people in Tuolumne, Amador, Alpine and Calaveras counties. Pre-pandemic, the group hosted get-togethers and events throughout the year, but Pride in the Park is its largest and longest-running event, held at Murphys Community Park since the alliance’s first year in 2016.

This year it was pared down, with fewer vendors and attendees, but the atmosphere was still lively, with rainbow streamers, karaoke and art activities accompanied by a lineup of musical artists.

One of those artists was Mateo Briscoe, an indie pop acoustic guitarist and singer. A member of the LGBT community, Briscoe was happy to make the trip from Sacramento with bandmates/producers Jesse Hanes and Jesse Szabo.

“Everyone seemed to really enjoy (our music),” Briscoe said. “I love seeing families and kids at pride events.”

According to Tri-County LGBT Alliance President Tyx “Ty” Pulskamp, there is a distinct need among local LGBT youth to find a safe place of acceptance, which the alliance hopes to provide with its family-friendly events.

As a transgender man, Pulskamp wasn’t always the vocal advocate now known for his leadership in Amador County. Like many LGBT teens who grew up in the area, he left home “the day after graduation,” living in Santa Cruz and Sacramento for many years before returning to Amador County and his family business, Rosebud’s Café in Jackson, 12 years ago.

“I think what I learned (while I was) away is that if you want to have a good life, you’re going to be doing the work to advocate and shape the environment you’re in no matter where it is,” Pulskamp said.

Within the Mother Lode region, he added, the potential for progress is great.

“We need to claim space outside of bars and be present in the community,” he said. “Run for offices, (be) business owners, and it’s not the hugest deal that (we are) trans or gay or bi. A lot of people want to show that to their children, and you don’t get a lot of chances to see that.”

Today, Pulskamp facilitates an LGBT youth group in Amador County and has also aided local schools in facilitating trainings for teachers who want to learn how to best support LGBT students.

Events like Pride in the Park are also crucial to providing an introductory and physical safe space for LGBT youth who might not feel accepted at school and might otherwise turn to potentially dangerous communities on the internet.

“Events like this really highlight (that) you’re not alone and, no matter who you are, you have someone who will love you, and there will be a space for you,” said Iris Omega, an award-winning drag queen who danced at Saturday’s event pro bono.

Known as Ty Ainsworth-Perryman outside of drag, the young performer grew up in Folsom, where he says he received death threats during his freshman year of high school due to his sexuality.

“The journey to coming out involves self-acceptance, and it’s a long, painful but beautiful journey. Many nights I cried myself to sleep because I knew I wasn’t going to be accepted,” Ainsworth-Perryman said. “But (without that) I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t be as politically involved, I wouldn’t be doing drag, I wouldn’t be fighting to show queer kids that they are loved and have a space.”

Pride at the Park drew former residents back to the community as well, like Andrew McKeon, who grew up in Arnold, graduated from Bret Harte High School in 1995, and now lives in Sacramento.

“I like that they do (this),” said McKeon, who has attended the event several times previously. “It’s a very small community and growing up here was difficult because there wasn’t a lot then. So it’s very nice that the town supported this.”

According to Vader, who has advocated for the LGBT community since 1999, local schools still have “a lot of work to do” in terms of providing LGBT support, but the climate over the last decade has moved toward acceptance and continues to improve—especially among the youth.

“I was talking earlier to a teen who just recently came out, and they’re not exactly sure where they fall, and I said, ‘You don’t have to (know).’ … And (they) just started crying and said, ‘I feel so good right now.’ And just to see one teenager feel like they can be themselves today, that just makes it all worth it,” Vader said.

To learn more, visit the Tri-County LGBT Alliance Facebook page.

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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