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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Napa Pride 20th Anniversary

Napa Pride Cruise Night

By Craig Smith

This June marks the 20th Anniversary of Napa Pride. While many cities host LGBTQ Pride events, most last for a day – a week, tops. Napa’s month-long celebration is different in that it includes a full calendar with over two dozen community events and activities that are open to everyone, not just the LGBTQ community. Many of the events are fundraisers with proceeds benefiting local nonprofits.

The roots of Napa Pride can be traced back to an Academy Awards event that started in a private backyard in 1991. As it grew in popularity, the organizers decided to move it to a bigger venue and make it a fundraiser, hosted at Napa’s Embassy Suites. Reynaldo Zertuche, who recently retired after 27 years as general manager of Embassy Suites recalls, “it was an overwhelming success. We raised over $50,000 to support HIV/AIDS patients.” With the late Pierce Carson of the Napa Valley Register helping with publicity, by the second year, all of Napa caught on, gay and allies alike, and the event instantly outgrew the hotel. For the next several years, it was held at the Napa Valley Expo.

Up to this point, not all gay people identified as one community, but that changed with the HIV crisis and this event. “Those parties were like a holy holiday for us,” said Carol Whichard, a longtime community activist, “and they were unbelievably fun.”

A New Chapter

In January of 2002, Deb Stallings, Director of Development at the Napa Valley Opera House was returning from a fundraising event with Pierce Carson, who was covering the event for the Napa Register. She recalls saying “Pierce, I like it here, but I miss the gays. I didn’t move 3,000 miles away from my mama to be surrounded by straight, white people. With that characteristic twinkle in his eye he said, ‘You have to come to the Academy Awards party! That’s where your people are.’ And he was right.”

Building on the success of the Academy Awards party, the North Bay Unity League was formed in 2002 to create a year-round point of connection for the LGBTQ community. The Unity League prioritized socialization and community service. They held Monthly Mixers so people knew where to come to find “their people” and they did community service so neighbors could see that “our gay agenda was about making our community a better place for all of us,” said Stallings.

“We’ve always been involved in the community. We helped build Playground Fantastico. We cooked food once a week for the families living in NEWS homes, so that the women could have a night off to just be moms for their kids,” said Zertuche.

“We remodeled a couple of the NEWS Safe Rooms. We had a lot of fun with it. We made it an internal competition, like the ‘Trading Spaces’ show, and the rooms looked great,” said Whichard.

The Unity League continued to grow with a membership of over two hundred people. Eric Oesterle, Rob Doughty’s husband and partner of twenty-five years, remembers a key moment. “We were talking about what we wanted to do next and Deb Stallings spoke up: ‘I think it’s time for Napa Pride.’”

Stallings said, “The Embassy Suites had become Ground Zero for gay gatherings, so we had that space thanks to Reynaldo and lots of publicity thanks to Pierce, and now we needed credibility.” Stallings and Zertuche visited Mayor Ed Henderson. “We asked him to proclaim June as Napa Pride month, to declare Napa welcoming to ALL people. He knew it wouldn’t be popular, but in the end, he agreed. “Ed was one of the warmest, kindest people you could imagine,” said Zertuche. “It became personal, not just two people asking for a professional favor.”

“One of the first events Napa Pride hosted was a family picnic in Kennedy Park, followed by an evening dance in what is now The Blue Note,” said Rob Doughty, one of the early members of Napa Pride and who deejays throughout the Bay Area as DJ Rotten Robbie. The two-part event raised over $10,000, which was donated to Molly’s Angels. “We wanted to show people that we are here for the whole community.”

Rick Turko, who moved to Napa in 2007 and hosted “Guerrilla Gay Bars for A Day” events, said that Napa Pride helped him become part of the gay community in Napa. “When we say Napa Pride, it doesn’t mean we think we are better than anyone else. So many of us spent years in the closet. Pride is personal. It represents my willingness to come out and say who I am and live an authentic life that I couldn’t live before.”

Doughty reinforced that, saying “the first step when Napa Pride was formed was to educate the gay community about what Pride meant. Some worried that they would be outed, or maybe even get threats.” That has not been the case.

Ian Stanley Posadas moved to Napa in elementary school. He remembers the first Pride Picnics, which took place while he was still coming to terms with his identity. “I so wanted to go, but being out didn’t seem possible for me at the time.” With the support of Napa Pride members, he found community and support, and instantly got involved. He eventually founded and ran the LBGTQ Connection for 11 years.

“Napa is an amazingly accepting community,” said Zertuche. “I am proud to be part of it.”

For a list of all the Napa Pride events taking place in June, visit And remember, all are welcomed.



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