HANFORD – “They were scared of the gays; we were scared of them,” LGBT activist Peter Robertson said about the “vocal” protesters of early Pride events in the Valley decades ago.
Robertson, Director of Development for the Fresno State Alumni Association and advocate for LGBT rights, said that the first few gay Pride events in Fresno in the early ‘90s were protested by hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan, which he said was “terrifying” at the time.
But things have changed.
“Churches would come and protest if you were having a parade and now churches come and say, ‘please come worship with us, we value you as a person.’ Things have just changed tremendously,” he said.
While acceptance for the LGBT community has grown in past decades, there’s still work to be done, he said.
“We’re not where we want to be but we’re better than we were yesterday and hopefully tomorrow we’ll be better than we are today,” he said.
Robertson will speak tonight at The Source LBTQ+ Pop Up Center at the Kings County Behavioral Health building in honor of LGBT History Month. The event is free.
Robertson, who said he moved from the Pacific Northwest to Fresno for love and stayed because he ended up loving the Valley, will give a speech covering LGBT history at the state and federal levels and how that history has impacted local LGBT culture.
He’ll also speak about the impact that HIV and AIDS have had on the gay community, both in the micro and macro, as well as the history of gay bars and gay culture in Fresno and at California State University, Fresno.
In addition, he’ll also cover some important local milestones like the founding of the Fresno Pride Lions Club, the opening of The Source and the election of Amy Shuklian, an openly lesbian woman who serves on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors.
He’ll also discuss George Loomis, an activist who filed a lawsuit against the Visalia Unified School District after one of his teachers at Golden West High School, Juan Garcia, called him a gay slur during class. Loomis won, resulting in the district adopting some of the strongest anti-harassment programs in the nation, according to the ACLU.
“[Loomis] is an icon. What I love about him is that he did this as a teenager,” Robertson said.
Robertson has also worked for LGBT rights in the Valley. A three-time Fresno State graduate, Robertson was a founding member of United Student Pride in 1987 and served as the grand marshal at the inaugural Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade in 1991. He established the Rainbow Alumni and Allies Club in 2015.
Another achievement that Robertson is proud of is advocating for the school to remodel, creating 26 gender inclusive restrooms on campus.
“We had a gender inclusive bathroom at my mom’s house and my grandparent’s house,” he joked. “It’s not a big deal. People want to pee — just let them pee. And for some students, it’s a really big deal. Students just want to succeed and we help them succeed.”
The activist also co-founded the Fresno Reel Pride Film Festival in 1990, which has been screening films made by LGBT film makers or are about LGBT issues. Robertson said the festival started small and he’d see many people in the audience sneak in and out, afraid to be seen, which the case is no longer. Now, members of the LGBT community, their friends, allies and family all come to screenings together — as well as anyone else who just enjoys the cinema.
“You don’t have to be a tree to hug a tree,” Robertson said.