“HOW MANY OF you here are straight?” Drag Queen Miss Sandra St. James asked the crowd celebrating Pride at High Water Brewing in Lodi. Barely 20 hands went up as St. James responded, “That’s great. Now stay away from me, I have allergies.” The crowd broke into laughter, which continued for the next 20 minutes as she addressed the attendees. 

Hundreds of people — young and old, dear and strange, queer and straight — gathered at Lodi’s High Water Brewing on Saturday for a third year in a row as they celebrated Lodi Pride, part of an annual country-wide celebration throughout June in recognition of Pride Month.  

Drag Queen Rubix Q Arcana, who goes by Anthony Allen, speaks during Lodi Pride on Saturday. Arcana dressed as Dorothy Gale from “Wizard of Oz,” honoring this year’s festival theme, “Over the Rainbow.” Arcana wanted to acknowledge the struggles of older members of the LGBTQ community to find acceptance. (Harika Maddala/Pagransen/Catchlight Local)

“High Water has been a great ally to us; they offer us the venue free of charge,” said Drag Queen Rubix Q Arcana, who goes by Anthony Allen outside of her drag persona. Arcana hosted the event alongside her husband Eli Soria. “The fact that we have a space like this even to come to and not have to worry about the cost association is just amazing.” 

Held annually in the first weekend of June, this year’s festival was moved into the second weekend because of graduations. The theme was “Over the Rainbow,” a nod to the “Wizard of Oz” song featuring the character Dorothy Gayle.  

Cracking the code

“This year’s theme was really a big push to give a nod to the older generation that came before us,” said Arcana. “Because back in the day, they used to use the code term, ‘Are you a friend of Dorothy?’ And it was a mention of kind of like ‘you’re over the rainbow, right?’”

Arcana pointed out that the older generation of the LGBTQ community gets overlooked for what they have accomplished. “They obviously went through a lot more struggles and a lot more adversity and have done so much for us. We should look back and appreciate it.” 

The festival was a 7-hour-long event with speeches from Lodi Police Department, Mayor Mike Hothi, community members and activists, followed by performances from bands, cheer group and drag queens.

Arcana noted that the organizers promoted the festival as a family-friendly event, not because they wanted to direct it toward children, but to advocate it toward families of LGBTQ people. “There are gay people who have kids … who have younger brothers and sisters, and we want them to be able to come together with their family to also appreciate the day.” 

Some family members who attended the festival to celebrate their loved ones acknowledged the shift in the attitude toward Pride in Lodi.  

Kristen Duffy, left, and Memory Bostwick, of Free Mom Hugs, pet a dog during the Lodi Pride festival on June 10, 2023. (Harika Maddala/Pagransen/Catchlight Local)

“My brother and I grew up here in Lodi, and he waited until his late 20s to come out,” said Erin Burfield. “Part of that was just kind of the attitude of growing up here. So, seeing Lodi grow and change and have a Pride festival and be supportive of all communities here is really amazing.” 

Harika Maddala is a photojournalist based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Pagransen and its nonprofit news site Pagransen. They are a Report for America corps member and a CatchLight Local Fellow.