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SLO Pride is back in-person after two years, and organizers talk new developments 

San Luis Obispo-based drag queen Nala Diamond is ready to strut on the big stage again. So much so that Diamond, who uses nonbinary pronouns, will be packing no less than 30 outfits for the upcoming SLO Pridefest.

click to enlarge PRIDE FOR ALL Nala Diamond will be one of the handful of drag queens performing at the all-ages Host of the Coast event on Pridefest’s kickoff night. - PHOTO COURTESY OF NALA DIAMOND
  • PRIDE FOR ALL Nala Diamond will be one of the handful of drag queens performing at the all-ages Host of the Coast event on Pridefest’s kickoff night.

"Working at drag shows, we do face a lot of challenges. From having the cops called on us almost every single show, to just trying to push as much visibility for every facet of the LGBT community," they said. "Even more so during COVID, because for a while, it was taken back. At one point, we were almost gone, at least with the drag side here."

Diamond hails from Florida and said they're well aware of the discrimination drag queens face in the South and even here on the Central Coast.

"From the time I have been out here on the Central Coast, Gala has been a huge part in helping keep that visibility going, and fighting a lot of the discrimination," Diamond said.

LGBTQ-plus visibility is set to be reflected all the more at Pridefest under the Gala Pride and Diversity Center's watchful eye. While SLO has been celebrating Pride with Gala since 1997 at Mission Plaza, the weekend-long festival starting May 20 will make its first appearance at Laguna Lake Park. It'll also be the first outdoor Pride after two years of virtual celebrations.

Diamond won't be performing alone. Roughly 10 drag queens will perform over the weekend, starting with the Host of the Coast program. Other events include a silent disco teen lounge, bilingual story time, and arts and crafts activities.

click to enlarge pride.jpg

"For a while, the performers out here were dwindling. We had a lot of queens move away; we had one very special queen pass away during COVID in 2020. The numbers are just starting to pick back up and grow. My partner, who works with a lot of LGBT youth, will actually be doing the drag queen story time with kids in English and Spanish," Diamond said.

Juicy CW is another drag queen ready to sashay at Pridefest. She credited the slow resurgence of performances to the queens' steady promotion of their art at smaller shows in Central Coast cafes and bars.

"I'd like to think that we're very encouraging of working with newer queens, really trying to get their heel stepped in the right direction. Drag is tough and painful, but it's very expressive and beautiful. To help other people experience that is something I treasure," Juicy said.

click to enlarge PASSION FOR FASHION Juicy CW designs and tailors most of her performance outfits and anticipates bringing 15 costumes for this year’s Pridefest. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JUICY CW
  • PASSION FOR FASHION Juicy CW designs and tailors most of her performance outfits and anticipates bringing 15 costumes for this year’s Pridefest.

Juicy does have a major trick up her sleeve to help both rookies and seasoned queens enjoy their performances: dress designing. She'll be bringing almost 16 outfits to Pridefest, and told New Times on May 2 that she had made four new ones the previous week alone.

Setting up Pridefest itself takes an extensive network of helping hands. The Shabang Live Music and Arts Festival, held May 13 an 14 also at Laguna Lake, shared a portion of its infrastructure, according to Lynn Schmidt, the Gala art curator and Pride chair.

"That has given us a leg up. We'll actually be a music festival: We have the main stage and the DJ sound stage, a drag show that's all ages on Friday night," Schmidt said.

The DJ sound stage is another facility that came about through community support. Hosted by a DJ collective called Soul Dust, the soundstage hopes to keep the crowd energized by eliminating dead time when waiting for the next event.

"When I moved up here, I noticed they had a single stage with a band, and they didn't do anything between the band. It was almost like the fun would stop. I thought I would love to give my DJ abilities," said DJ Chad Fortin, founder of Speakeasy Entertainment. "I had always had a desire to do a dance area for Pride. That's kinda how Lynn and my relationship started."

Fortin added that his set would be family-friendly, since most of the events cater to all ages. While visitors can expect hip-hop, soul, and funk from the DJ, Fortin said he would inevitably find his way back to a genre significant to queer culture: house music.

"On Saturday, we're doing house music all afternoon through the evening," he said. "House was typically prevalent in the gay lifestyle. When I started my DJ career, I was playing a lot of house music to a lot of gay clubs in the Hillcrest area. It was very popular in my experience. It was amazing to feel the love. House music started in an underground setting, to escape and forget about everything."

Schmidt expects hundreds of people to show up, especially after a two-year in-person hiatus.

"The sheer volume of it [the crowd] is overwhelming. Our community is always extremely generous to support us. This year has been a little bit of a challenge because people are coming back from COVID. If you had a nice, big, fat bank account before COVID, you probably don't now," Schmidt said. "We've been seeing smaller sponsorship dollars roll in, but there are even more sponsors than we've had before.

"So, it's evened out, but the makeup of it is different."

She said chairing Pridefest is a bucket-list item for her, one she's been actively working toward—leading up to the big event, her garage is a special holding area for 80 cases of wine glasses and a 6-foot throne before they get transported to Laguna Lake Park. Δ

Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal at


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