Billy James, 11, considers himself just part of an ordinary family.
The California City boy accompanied his mother and her lesbian live-in lover to the first Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival in Antelope Valley on Saturday, taking in the sights with the same casualness he might have displayed on a trip to the mall.
The festival ends today at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds.
James said while some of his classmates make derogatory remarks about his living situation, he dismisses them as uninformed. What they say “doesn’t bother me,” James said. “It’s no big deal.”
His mother, Dee, said she has been involved in the relationship for three years and makes it a point to answer any of her children’s questions about it. She said all of her kids relate well to her roommate.
“If I leave her, (Billy) wants to stay with her,” she said.
Organizers of the three-day festival estimated that more than 150 people had shown up for the event in the fairgrounds’ agricultural building by midafternoon. More were expected later, as comedians, speakers and various performers took the stage.
The event--featuring about 15 vendors with leaflets, T-shirts, historical displays and other materials--was considerably smaller than similar festivals in Los Angeles and other cities, which have drawn thousands of people.
But Saturday’s visitors said the chance to show their support for the gay community in the area was more important than the event’s size.
“For me it’s freedom and support, which we don’t always get at home,” said a 35-year-old woman who has lived in Lancaster for two years and works at the state prison there.
She said she keeps her sexual preference a secret at work because many of the prison officials “are not real open-minded,” but added she has met other employees there who are homosexuals.
“We have a secret handshake,” she said jokingly.
The festival wasn’t much different from a country fair. Lovers held hands and kissed as they walked among the various display tables, while others sat down at tables with hot dogs and drinks to watch the entertainers. Outside, those taking a break from the loud music and crowded corridors played football and Frisbee on the grass.
One of the largest displays was provided by John O’Brien, 45, of the International Gay and Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles. In glass cases on several tables were 6,000 buttons with gay pride themes dating back to 1905.
He said he has been collecting the pins--part of a collection of 30,000 he has promoting various political causes--for more then 30 years. When he was younger, O’Brien said, he felt isolated because of his sexual identity. He said his organization tries to provide the material he lacked then, showing that homosexuality has existed throughout history.
“It would have been much easier in my life when I was young to know I was not the only person,” he said.
The threat of protests from conservative activists lingered after five people picketed in front of the fairgrounds Friday night, but none were seen Saturday afternoon. Some organizers said they expected the chances of a protest to be greater today after church services.
Security was tight, with people and their belongings checked at the building’s entrance for weapons, alcohol and drugs. The precautions are standard at other gay and lesbian events, said Dee Dicey, a board member of the Antelope Valley Gay and Lesbian Alliance, which organized the event.
“We don’t want anyone to be hurt,” she said.
Anti-gay sentiments have recently surfaced in the Antelope Valley. Both the Lancaster and Palmdale city councils have taken positions against gay-rights legislation, and a Lancaster church produced “The Gay Agenda,” a nationally distributed anti-homosexual video.
But festival-goers said the problem is no worse than it is in other cities.
“I don’t honestly think there is anything that can be done about it, because a lot of people already have preconceived notions,” said Mike Liebmann, 39, who said he didn’t “come to terms” with being gay until 10 years ago.
An interfaith service with nondenominational churches in the area that do not condemn homosexuality is scheduled from 9 to 10:30 a.m. today. The festival is open from noon to 5 p.m. at the fairgrounds, located at Division Street and East Avenue I.