Responding to social media buzz about this weekend’s LGBTQ festival in downtown Riverside and rumblings of possible protests and counter protests, the Riverside Police Department intends to put officers on standby the day of the event.
Riverside police will provide security at the Riverside’s Inland Empire Pride Festival on Sunday, Sept. 4, at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium, as it does for other events that draw many people, department spokesperson Officer Ryan Railsback said.
The department is monitoring the online chatter and taking steps to call in additional officers, if needed, to keep the peace, Railsback said.
He said the agency made similar preparations in advance of a rally in July 2021 featuring controversial Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz, of Florida, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, that was moved several times and ultimately staged outside Riverside City Hall.
The opposition also has led some festival entertainers to cancel performances, said Riverside City Council Member Clarissa Cervantes, who plans to attend.
Cesario Mora, marketing assistant for Riverside LGBTQ Pride, the Inland Empire-wide group that is putting on Sunday’s event, said the security plan involves stationing two police officers at the front of the building and two officers at the back.
Mora said the group is providing security guards and recently decided to bring in more than first planned, though he didn’t know how many.
“Because of the online rumblings, we did ramp it up,” he said.
“We want to make sure that everyone is safe,” he said. “We want everyone to have fun.”
The event is scheduled to take place inside the auditorium from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. No one who is protesting outside — no matter which side they are on — will be allowed in the building, Mora said.
“Come to celebrate who you are,” he said. “Don’t counter protest.”
Mora said the festival, billed as free and for all ages, is the first such local event to be held since 2009.
The approaching celebration is prompting significant opposition.
As of Friday, Sept. 2, about 700 people had commented — some opposed, some in favor — on a Riverside city government Facebook post about the event.
Others have complained to city officials.
Riverside resident Rebekah Cloud emailed her concerns to Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson and the Riverside City Council.
“I don’t have a problem with the event, in general,” Cloud said by phone Friday. “It’s the burlesque dancers that are going to be there potentially in front of children. A burlesque dancer is a striptease dancer.”
“They need to be carding people,” she said.
Heather Knapp, a Riverside woman with four young children, is upset as well.
“I just honestly find it shocking that the city thinks it is appropriate for children to be there,” Knapp said, adding, “kids should not be able to see naked adults performing.”
Mora, the marketing assistant, said the program contains nothing that is inappropriate for children.
“Keep in mind, all the performances are going to be PG rated,” he said. “There is going to be no nudity at this event at all. There is nothing that is going to be pornographic.”
Mora said the program includes a performance by a burlesque dancer, but the person will do a “tasteful” dance, not a striptease. To ease any concerns, Mora — who will be the emcee — said he will announce the act and recommend beforehand that people send their children to the festival’s youth center in another area of the auditorium away from the stage, if they are not already there.
Still, he said, “everything is PG. Even this.”
Cloud remains skeptical.
“How can it be PG if there is going to a burlesque dancer?” she asked.
To be run by the Rainbow Pride Youth Alliance, the festival’s “Youth Zone” for children 17 and under will feature educational materials, arts and crafts, video and other types of games, a reading area and photo booth, according to the festival’s webpage.
The event also will feature live music, drag performances, information on the history of the LGBTQ community, panel discussions, dancing and a DJ.
Cervantes, the city council member, said she plans to take her minor daughter to the festival, which she said will be family friendly.
“As one of the LGBTQ+ council members representing Riverside, I believe education, awareness, and community events like this are critical,” Cervantes wrote in an email. “This event has been thoughtfully organized for all ages.”
Cervantes said she heard that some entertainers no longer plan to perform at the festival.
“From my understanding, several LGBTQ+ performers have backed out due to harassment and concerning comments made on social media,” she said.
Knapp, the Riverside mom who raised concerns, also called it inappropriate that the city council voted unanimously in late June to approve support for the festival.
“They are using our money that we pay taxes on to support the event,” she said.
According to a report delivered to the council, the festival was anticipating 3,000 people to attend and working with a nearly $120,000 budget. The group putting on the event sought $5,000 in cash from the city and received $1,500, the report states. The group also received $4,725 of in-kind services, for a total of $6,225.
A large number of people rushed to defend the festival on social media, including Riverside resident Serah Kott, who wrote that he was “tired of all those people (who are) so narrow minded and stuck in a time that just is hateful.”
Corona resident Alexus Isley defended the event in a Facebook post.
“Imagine just letting people live their lives and not feeling like you have to judge them,” Isley wrote. “I guess some people will always be bitter and boring. Imma still go though.”