2017 Grand Marshals
2017 Grand Marshals
Bill was born in Wisconsin and when he was 20 he made his dream of moving to California come true. After 8 years in Humboldt County, he wanted to explore other options and moved to Fresno to work at an emergency veterinary hospital where he continues to work six and a half years later as a supervisor. In his free time he manages to help maintain the Fresno Rainbow Pride website, writes daily political news recaps for his Facebook page The Uh-Glee Truth (also featured in the Community Link newspaper), and supports his boyfriend of two and a half years, Chris Ruiz, by helping out behind the scenes and attending FAB’s weekly drag show on Fridays where Chris performs as Cookie Cutter.
Chris was born in Athens, Greece and grew up as an Air Force "military brat." After becoming a licensed cosmetologist, he moved to Fresno where he continues to work in the beauty industry at The House Hair Studio. Chris has a love for camp film, including the films of John Waters, which inspired him to become the drag queen Cookie Cutter. Chris has been performing as Cookie for 6 years in Fresno. You can catch Cookie at FAB in the Tower District every Friday night at midnight. Chris lives in Fresno with his boyfriend, Bill Wenham.
Cookie Cutter was born in a burst of color, glitter, and light. The world heard a collective sound of bells--you remember the day. Since birth, she has attracted attention of millions with her shocking acts. She once dove off the world's tallest building! Beloved by tens, known by billions; movie star, rock star, and amateur chef, Cookie does it all! Cookie currently lives and loves in Fresno, CA.
Jena Adams, a Fresno native, started her career path in a very different way than she ended up. After getting an AA degree in Fashion Merchandise, her life shifted. In 1984, after losing her 30 year old cousin to AIDS related pneumonia, she shifted from a focus on the outside to concentrating on the inside, and started an 8 year relationship with the Central Valley AIDS Team in Fresno, from 1984 to 1992.
Then she met Alan Gilmore while on the board at CVAT, and her life transformed to one of public service. She followed him to the Fresno County Department of Public Health and to this day is a foundation there, with the title of Supervising Communicable Disease Specialist from 1998 to the present. Her duties icnlude Supervision of HIV Prevention, HIV Surveillance, AIDS Drug Assistance Program, STD Prevention and STD Investigation Programs.
Other accomplishments include Central Valley Viral Hepatitis Coalition 2012–2014, Statewide African American HIV/AIDS Awareness Coalition 2005–2010, Central Valley African American HIV/AIDS Coalition 2005-2010, CDPH, Office of AIDS, Community Planning Group (Statewide HIV Advisory to the Office of AIDS) 2014-Present (Served as CPG Community Co-Chair 2014 -2016). Local HIV Prevention/ Care Work Groups: Government Co-Chair, Community Action Council 2012-Present. She’s also volunteered for Camp Care, operated by All About Care, an HIV/AIDS nonprofit, since 1996.
The difference in the landscape of HIV from the 1990s to now is clear. “When I started,” Jena says, “there were constant funerals. We lost a generation. Today, there’s no recognition. Somehow, young people are missing the message of prevention.”
“HIV and AIDS is now a chronic, manageable disease, with a life expectancy equal to the general population,” she says, pointing out that now you can live with HIV and still “fulfill your dreams”. But HIV still complicates life and can lead to deadly complications. The key is prevention.
The message for Jena now is GET TO ZERO. That translates to zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and charting viral loads that are undetectable. Each year in December, Jena coordinates the World AIDS Day March and events in Fresno, and GET TO ZERO has been a rallying cry.
Jena wants to remind everyone that June 27th is National HIV Testing Day and that the Fresno County Department of Public Health provides free testing Monday through Thursday from 8:30am-11am and from 1pm to 3pm.
Let’s hear it for Grand Marshal Marsha Conant! Marsha was nominated and unanimously elected by the Fresno Rainbow Pride Committee to be a Grand Marshal for the 2017 Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade and Festival for her lifelong dedication to LGBT and human rights!
Marsha was born in Oakland, California, but her family soon moved to the Los Angeles area, where she grew up in the cities of Buena Park and Moorpark. Her family later moved to Orosi, California, in Tulare County, which is where Marsha attended high school.
Marsha attended junior college at the College of the Sequoias, in Visalia, California. It was there that she got involved in politics. She became politically active in 1973, when she got involved in the student council and later became president. She joined the Democratic Central Committee at the tender age of nineteen. She also became involved in the National Organization for Women (NOW) and joined the Democratic National Political Caucus.
During her time in Tulare County, Marsha became a delegate to the California Democratic Council and eventually became a co-chair of the Gay Caucus for the Council. Marsha described the California Democratic Council, as a step in progressive consciousness.
After completing her studies at COS, Marsha attended Fresno State College and elected to major in Political Science. She got involved in fighting the Briggs Initiative in 1978. The Briggs Initiative, or Prop 6, was an attempt to ban LGBT instructors, and possibly anyone who supported LGBT rights, from working in California’s public schools. The proposition was defeated, and Marsha said that the defeat of the Briggs Initiative was the first time LGBT politicians defeated an anti-LGBT legislation effort.
During the late 1970’s Marsha also helped create a Democratic club in Fresno, called the WildeStein Club (after the LGBT playwrights Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein), which preceded the creation of the local chapter of the Stonewall Democrats. She continued to stay involved in political groups for human rights and women’s rights.
Despite her whirlwind involvement in politics, Marsha managed to find her partner, Marilyn, and the two of them began a relationship. In 1982, they opened a printing business that has run for decades. Marsha said that she and Marilyn have been a couple for 40 years! She attributed their success as a couple to teamwork and communication. Marsha believes that despite the fact that LGBT individuals have won the right to marry, people still need to consider that marriage is a lifelong commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Marsha is proud of the fact that in the last decade she and Marilyn adopted two daughters and raised them. The girls are now in college, and the “empty-nest syndrome” has spurred her to delve deeper into politics! Last summer Marsha held an LGBT house party to raise local awareness and in the fall she attended the Democratic National Convention as a local delegate for Hillary Clinton. She’s unstoppable!
As a Grand Marshal for the 2017 Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade, Marsha’s message to the LGBT community is that we all need to be involved in politics and stay involved because politics affect all of our lives. We need to fight conservative thinking in our city and county governments that oppresses our community. We need to be a political group that politicians seek out for counsel and support. We need to unite for LGBT Pride!
It is with great pleasure that we introduce one of two of the greatest drag pioneers in the Central Valley as a Grand Marshal for this year’s Rainbow Gay Pride Parade and Festival. Jesse Villalobos, Queen Mother II of the Imperial Dove Court, Jesse 1 & 4. Jesse started her drag career at a young 16. She was inspired at the time to start drag by watching network television and variety television shows. She was also exposed to a small local transgender community in Selma. Jesse was born in Indingo, CA where she later became a Selma resident.
Jesse’s list of accomplishments is everlasting and a live working document. Jesse not only has contributed and founded one of the eldest LGBTQ Non Profit Organization, The Imperial Dove Court de Fresno Madera but has also traveled around the United States and has performed in venues near and far. One of Jesse’s most memorable moments was performing in San Francisco day in and day out in cabarets and productions numbers. Jesse was inspired to start the Imperial Dove Court during a visit in San Francisco where she rubbed elbows with the Founder of the Imperial Court System Mother Jose. She identified the need of servitude in Fresno and it’s surrounding cities.
Jesse has faced many obstacles in her life, not only as a drag queen but as a homosexual man. Jesse was bullied by fellow students but learned to channel her flamboyant personality into the art of Music. Jesse joined the band where pageantry was at its best, twirling batons and marching and performing on football fields around. Another obstacle Jesse faced with was and is the lack of compassion for one another regardless of sexual orientation, gender or religious beliefs.
When I asked Jesse, “Why advise would you like to give to the youth of this community?” she paused and I heard a crack in her voice. She said “To be yourself mija and to not hide behind any closets, walls or barriers. To be yourself and be beautiful’. She continued to say, No one can do you better than how you do you.
Jesse has left an impact not only on this community but has also influenced so many. Jesse ‘s legacy will not only be of her fundraising abilities but her visionary work. Jesse sees the positivity in each and every one of us. She sees the potential that most of us didn’t think that we had. She continues to believe that “it will get better” and with every person that she impacts during her servitude of community work, philanthropy and servitude to God, she is that beacon of positivity and light. She continues to say that we make mistakes in life, we should not dwell on the negativity but be thankful for the road that we walk.
It was an honor to not only interview Jesse but to hear such a humble and passionate person speak. Jesse 1 & 4, Jesse Villalobos or Mother as some like to call her, would like to thank the committee, the community and everyone celebrating her with her as this year’s Grand Marshal.
Sondra St. James Queen Mother II of Modesto is honored to be one of this year’s Grand Marshals. Sondra first started off her drag career drawing inspiration from the great Boy George. Sondra stared out her career at the at of 14 in Modesto where she was approached by a few queens who were more than willing to show her the ropes. Little did Sondra know that she was going to be draw into an organization that she would soon be the Queen Mother of. Sondra then was fortunate to meet queens like Shannon, Jesse 1&4, Elaine Barriger Charles Pierce and Bobby Calcatay.
Sondra, is known for her effortless amount of time and hours of community service work and for being known as a mother to half of California’s drag queens and kings. She has received many awards, none that can compare to the work and activism that she accomplished. Sondra lived in a time where drag was seen as a negative and she embraced that negative and turned it into a lifestyle of helping others. Sondra has appeared on an HBO documentary that showcased the drag queens of comedy., a LGBTQ documentary highlighting on LGBTQ comedians. Sondra also is very proud of her accomplishment of opening one of the first LGBTQ Community Centers in Modesto.
Being from a Southern family, Sondra faced, like many, a non approving home. Sondra would best describe her style as wild and loud, which at that time was not approved by many however she continued to be herself. Sondra brings out the glamorous side of Halloween. If you have not witness Sondra in person, you are really missing out on a spectual. Sondra St. James does not do simple!
Sondra’s advise to the youth of the community is to be comfortable in your skin and do exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it. She would like for everyone to express themselves freely.
Sondra would like to be remembered by her sense of humor but to be seen past the laughter and sarcastic witt. She would like to be remembered by her effortless contribution to Charities and her dedication to the communities in which she serves.
During this interview, we addressed a very sensitive and important conversation. I asked Sondra, “What could you change, if you could?” She then paused and said the AIDS Epidemic in the early 80’s. She went on to say “while everyone was enjoying prom, she was watching her friends pass away, changing diapers and mourning with death”. Although everyone has the right to chose how to conduct themselves during their personal sexual relationships she wishes we would never have to see an epidemic as we did in the 80’s.
Sondra St James, Legendary, Iconic – no Sondra St James – Community Leader, Activist and Hero! Sondra would like to thank the committee and the community for joining her today as we celebrate Gay Pride! “Happy Halloween”. – Sondra
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