2018 Grand Marshals

Helen James

Pastor Bill Knezovich

Senator Scott Wiener

In 2018, Helen James was the subject of news stories by organizations such as The Washington Post and NBC News, being on NBC’s “The Today Show.” By chance, she became a celebrity by fighting to right a wrong.

James’s battle to upgrade her “undesirable” discharge from the Air Force to “honorable” was viewed by the whole world and she hopes it will inspire others to fight as well.

“I’m hoping that this opens up doors for other veterans that have been treated in the same way,” James said. “That’s my real hope, that it can foster some realization in people that have been discarded in a sense.”

James grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania, where she did a variety of work such as milk cows and help harvest as a child. She was born into a family where many were of service, instilling the importance of the military throughout her life.

She applied and joined the Air Force in 1952, however by 1955 she was discharged by the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations for being a lesbian. Following her time in the Air Force, James went on to study at the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University, and then went on to teach at California State University, Fresno, in the physical therapy program.

In recent years, James decided to officially apply for an upgrade to an “honorable” discharge, which was ultimately granted. She will be the grand marshal for the upcoming Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade.

“[Being grand marshal] means that I’m out. You know, I’ve never been out as far as my sexual orientation; I’ve always had to keep it under wraps,” James said. “It’s a great honor.”

Pastor Bill Knezovich has served as a Rainbow Pride Parade Committee member since 2017.  As a committee member and as a pastor, Bill has demonstrated consistent concern for the LGBT community of Fresno.  Bill doesn’t just talk about caring for people, he demonstrates his commitment daily as the Pastor of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, in Fresno.  Bill’s commitment to serving people in Fresno has come to the attention of the Rainbow Pride Committee on numerous occasions, and in order to honor his dedication to helping people, the committee asked Bill to be one of the Grand Marshals in this year’s Rainbow Pride Parade.

Bill was born in the small town of Lander, Wyoming.  He was quick to point out that Wyoming is one of those states where LGBT people have been assaulted and killed over the years.  Bill was aware that he was gay at a very early age, and growing up, he suffered numerous emotional and physical assaults from his own family members.  He tried his best to “fit in” as he grew up, but he never did.  Bill recounted a story he heard when he was twelve, where a couple of men in Wyoming were killed “Matthew Shepard style” for being gay.  His family commented that “they got what they deserved.”

Despite his harassment as a child, Bill was a good student and graduated from high school with good grades.  He attended the University of Wyoming and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Music.  He went on to attend the University of Denver, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Music.  He taught music for a while and played music everywhere he went.  He moved to California in his mid-twenties and earned a Master’s Degree in Divinity at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, in Berkeley, at the age of 28.

Shortly after his graduation from the Seminary, Bill became the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, in San Francisco.  His passion was working with homeless LGBT youth, trying to help them find shelter and assistance.  Bill said that the homeless youth were preyed upon by others, so he did whatever he could to help them.  During his stay in San Francisco, Bill became interested in community organizing, and when he moved to Fresno, he continued his zeal for galvanizing the community.

In Fresno, Bill continued to work with youth, especially focusing on safety and healthcare for children in the community.  He also became involved in politics, trying to urge politicians to care for the people of Fresno.  Bill was one of the many pastors that denounced Fresno Unified School District President Brooke Ashjian recently when he made negative comments about providing LGBT education in the schools.  Bill also succeeded in making his church a “Reconciling in Christ” church, a designation given to Lutheran churches that publicly welcome the LGBT community.  His commitment to his church and to the people of Fresno has been tireless.

When asked about highlights that have stood out for him in his lifetime, Bill talked about going to the Whitehouse during the Clinton era to support children’s healthcare initiatives.  He also met with Governor Schwarzenneger to bring children’s healthcare to light.  As a musician, Bill has worked with Hollywood stars and musicians throughout his lifetime.  He continues to write music and perform it.  Bill is especially proud of the work he has done as a pastor.  He said that he will continue to do God’s work as long has he has the energy to do it.

Elected in November 2016, Senator Scott Wiener represents District 11 in the California State Senate. District 11 includes all of San Francisco, Broadmoor, Colma, and Daly City, as well as portions of South San Francisco.

In the Senate, Senator Wiener works hard to make housing more affordable by confronting California’s severe housing shortage; to improve and expand our public transportation systems; to increase access to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare; to support working families, including expanding paid family leave, childcare, and quality public education; to support California's nightlife culture and economy; to meaningfully address climate change and the impacts of drought by expanding clean energy and modernizing our water system; to reform the criminal justice system and reduce gun violence; to reduce California’s alarmingly high poverty rate; and to safeguard and expand the rights of all communities, including immigrants and the LGBT community.

During his first year in the Senate, Senator Wiener passed 11 bills that were signed into law. He authored a bill that established an LGBT Senior Bill of Rights that strengthens protections for LGBT seniors living in long-term care facilities against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or HIV status. The bill protects all seniors living in skilled nursing facilities, immediate care facilities, and residential care facilities. He authored a bill to modernize HIV criminalization laws that brings California statutes up to date with the current understanding of HIV prevention, treatment and transmission to reduce stigma around HIV and improve public health outcomes. He also joint authored a bill with Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins that created a third, non-binary option on government IDs and eliminates obstacles for transgender and non-binary individuals trying to get a state ID.

This year, some of Senator Wiener’s bills include the Dignity and Opportunity Act: Advancing Civil Rights for LGBT People in Correctional Facilities, the LOCAL Act: Allowing Cities to Extend Bar Hours to 4am, Restoring Net Neutrality in California, and the California Fruit and Vegetable EBT Pilot Project that will allow CalFresh recipients to earn extra CalFresh funds by purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables grown in California.

Before his election to the Senate, Senator Wiener served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, where he authored a number of first-in-the-nation laws, including mandating fully paid parental leave for working parents, requiring water recycling and solar power in new developments, and banning public spending in states with anti-LGBT hate laws. His work on housing included legislation to streamline the approval of affordable housing and extended rent control protections to people living with HIV/AIDS.

Before being elected to the Board of Supervisors, Senator Wiener served as Chairman of the San Francisco Democratic Party. A leader in San Francisco’s LGBT community, Senator Wiener co-chaired the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, BALIF (the Bay Area’s LGBT bar association), and the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, as well as serving on the national board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign.

Virgil Wigley

King Father (IDC)

Cisco Mendez

Terry Story

Jeff Hoe

Virgil Wigley will stand in the spotlight when he needs to, but he’s not comfortable there. After 43 years as a bar and nightclub owner in Fresno, he’s found himself in the spotlight a lot, having become a legend and icon in the LGBT community. With the many clubs he’s owned and operated over the years he’s provided a haven to those of us looking for safe places to let loose and be ourselves in an often judgmental and dangerous world. Still, he prefers the background.

Born in Montrose, Colorado, Virgil’s business was service stations from 1963 to 1975. Having been self-employed his entire life, he decided to look for another line of work that would allow him the same freedom. He focused on the bar business and opened up the Bob Damron guide to look at what was out there. Then he headed to California, looking for opportunities in Bakersfield, San Francisco and Reno. After a couple of bar prospects fell through in southern California he found his way to Fresno.

The Hi Ho was for sale, as well as the Red Lantern, which at the time was a local, straight bar. Virgil decided on the Lantern and purchased the bar in September of 1976. At the time, the Red was half the size it is now, sharing the space with a liquor store. In that small space, a cover was placed on the pool table to be used as a “stage” for drag performances. When the liquor store space became available he took it over and expanded the Lantern to what it is today. At the time there were two other bars in town, the Showbiz on Blackstone and the Hangout at Herndon and 99.

Other bars followed, including the Carousel, the Metro, a gay bar, in 1986, the Palace, a lesbian bar, in 1988 and the North Tower Circle, a gay club in 1999. The Metro had a restaurant and an upstairs/downstairs floorplan. The Palace was one of the few lesbian clubs in Fresno, and the Circle was a one of a kind, circular bar/nightclub located on the edge of the Tower District.

While he’s not a party person himself, Virgil loves to hang out at his bars and watch the crowds enjoy themselves and socialize. His clubs are famous for hosting drag shows and a wide variety of other entertainment, both local and from out of town. He’s also known for generously allowing nonprofits and other local organizations to take over his clubs for the night and raise money for charity and worthwhile causes. The community has always known they could count on Virgil for fundraisers and political action, no questions asked.

Virgil sees that things have changed in the LGBT community, for the better, but those changes have also had their impact on the landscape for gay bars. Now that gay people are welcomed virtually everywhere, the options available to everyone can have a limit on business for the gay clubs. But Virgil has always been it for the long run, and knows that you have to push through the hard times in order to survive.

Virgil is a survivor, and a critical piece of the history of the LGBT community in Fresno. We are lucky to have him stand behind us. - Chris Jarvis

Terry and Cisco met about 13 years ago. Terry was working as a teacher and Cisco in retail. Three years later, and 2008, they married in October 4. They will be celebrating their 10 year wedding anniversary this October. In October 2015, they opened FAB Nightclub and have worked hard to try to make it not only a fun and enjoyable nightlife spot, but also a safe place of diversity.

Terry and Cisco have always believed in giving back to the community. They were instrumental in bringing the first dance floor at the Fresno Rainbow Pride Festival and have continued their support not only for Fresno Rainbow Pride, but for many other LGBT organizations as well. Donations and fundraisers have been held for West Care and the Aids Walk, the Marjorie Mason Center, the Tower Mardi Gras Parade, just to name a few. Without these organizations, our community would not be as healthy and strong as it is today.

Terry and Cisco wish to thank Fresno Rainbow Pride for the honor of being Grand Marshals in the 2018 Pride parade.

Jeff Hough, the owner of Club Legends and the bar, Alibi has been a fixture in the Fresno community for over twenty five years.

Jeff was born in Frankfurt Germany where is father was stationed but was raised in Fresno, CA by a mother who he says he was lucky to have, a mother who was loving and accepting when he came out as a young man. He recalls his first nightclub experiences as being positive and fun. His fondest memories are of the Barn Dance parties stepping out as his alter ego, Mary F’ng Kay. It was around that time 24 years ago when he met his best friend and partner for life, Ray Martinez-Hough. They married in 2016. Jeff credits Ray for keeping him grounded and is grateful for his unwavering patience, support and help in his life and business.

An inheritance gift paved the way for an investment into housing properties and then led to his opening of the restaurant/bar J Ho’s (located in the Tower District) in 2007. He closed the restaurant after realizing that it wasn’t a restaurant he wanted; it was a bar. As he began his quest for the perfect location, he opened up Scoops, an ice cream parlor right next door to the restaurant. He sold the shop and not much time later he found a location and began the long and arduous task of renovating, obtaining permits and licenses to finally open Club Legends in 2010

Jeff was uncompromising when it came to his vision, a nightclub that would rival any other nightclub in Fresno, gay or straight. He wanted to create a place for the alternative nightlife, a space pushing the envelope while creating a welcoming and safe environment for all. Club Legends has become one of the premier hot spots in Fresno, boasting three dance floors, five bars, an outdoor swimming pool and a shower in full display. Jeff was still not finished though. He still wanted that laid back bar and he found  it when he and Ray reopened and renovated the space formally known as The Phoenix and called it the ALIBI.

Jeff’s success gave way to another passion of his, to give back to movements and organizations whose missions he believes in, such as the Poverello House, Marjory Mason Center, the Living Room, Reel Pride, Fresno Rainbow Pride and more. He’s also known for his love of animals, giving to the Cat Haven and to the Central Valley ASPCA and having the propensity of feeding or housing almost every stray animal that comes his way. He also shows his gratitude to his customers and employees by organizing paid trips and giveaways and committing random acts to the unsuspecting who may be struggling through a loss or hardship.

The enigmatic business owner is known for his unapologetic personality and his reputation for building his own path, according to his own vision and ideals. If there’s one thing about Jeff, he doesn’t like to be pinned down to anyone’s expectations except his own. Once you think you’ve got him figured out, he surprises you in that genuine, no holds barred way of his. His success and impact on the LGBT+ community and nightlife is why he’s being celebrated as a Grand Marshall of the 28th Annual Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade and Festival.

He will share this honor with his partner in life and all things, Ray who has been instrumental in the running of Club Legends and who without him, Jeff would admittedly not have the success, life and love he’s enjoyed for the last 24 years together.

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