Pride Without Prejudice

How a Group of Determined Volunteers Brought Pride to Wine Country

The Santa Ynez Valley of California is known for many things, but it is best recognized for its incredible wine and strong sense of community. The gorgeous and grape-filled Santa Ynez Valley (SYV) covers the small communities of Solvang, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Buellton, Ballard, and Los Alamos. A top destination to visit for oenophiles, foodies, weddings, and more, the SYV—or Valley as locals call it—has now also become a prime destination for Pride. 

A quick drive over the mountains from Santa Barbara, the Valley provides a stark contrast to the coastal vibes of SB, instead cultivating a cowboy-country feel—ripe with bustling crops, friendly livestock and some of the most breathtaking landscape views you’ll ever see. An idyllic place to live and visit, not much is missing from this land of wine and wide-open spaces. However, up until recently, there was one community markedly absent from representation: LGBTQIA+ Pride. That is, until the SYV Pride team was formed. 

In 2022, SYV Pride became the first registered 501(c)3 nonprofit (meaning charitable organization) in the Santa Ynez Valley dedicated to supporting and celebrating the local LGBTQIA+ community. Their mission was simple: to create a safe, supportive, and empowering home for the LGBTQIA+ community in the Santa Ynez Valley through the education and celebration of LGBTQIA+ culture. 

Residents Lauren Lastra, Alyce Barrick, Laura Newman, Ken Sorenson, and Adriana Reyes were among those who founded today’s SYV Pride, an organization run solely by volunteers. All donations gathered through SYV Pride’s efforts are poured directly back into the community they serve, from supporting other LGBTQIA+ nonprofits that align with their mission and offering scholarships to local Santa Ynez Valley High School seniors who have shown leadership in supporting the LGTBQIA+ community, to creating and organizing collaborative community events such as the now annual SYV Pride Parade & Festival. 

“Santa Ynez Valley Pride, or SYV Pride, is all about community building,” explains Lauren Lastra, founding SYV Pride board president. “For decades, residents had not felt seen or embraced and we wanted to change that. We wanted to create a space where people could show up authentically as themselves and know that they would be safe, supported, and empowered.”

In June 2022, the non-profit worked tirelessly to bring Pride celebrations to the Santa Ynez Valley. This multiday event was ripe with colorful, joyful activity, complete with an inaugural Pride parade that welcomed all Valley citizens to participate and enjoy as the community came together to show their LGBTQIA+ neighbors love and support. 

The event was a rousing success. “That first year, the Pride parade and festival was nominated and voted as the ‘Best Community Event’ by the Santa Ynez Valley Times. Last year, SYV Pride was nominated and voted not only as ‘Best Community Event’ but also as ‘Best Non-Profit’ in the Santa Ynez Valley,” says Lastra.

However, not all were excited about the organization’s existence in the Valley. “Shortly after our first Pride event, there was a Pride flag-burning incident in August 2022 where flags were stolen and burned while demonstrators who were quoting the Bible implied that the queer community was destined for hell,” says Lastra. “Two local men were charged with a hate crime and recently sentenced to complete both 80 hours of community service with a non-profit that serves the LGBTQIA+ community and a anti-bias education program organized by the Museum of Tolerance.”

Despite this sentencing, SYV Pride continues to face adversaries, both known and unknown. “Shortly after the Santa Barbara Independent published an article with an update to the trial, my Pride flag was torn down and stolen from my front porch,” shares Lastra. “I promptly put up a new one.”

Going back to 2023, SYV Pride was in the news again as they supported a LGBTQIA+ resource center located in Solvang, in their proposal to fly rainbow banners on city streets in celebration and recognition of Pride Month. Initially, Solvang City Council denied the organization’s application, with Solvang Mayor Mark Infanti casting one of the key votes against the proposal. “The homophobic, ignorant, and hateful excuses to deny the application made international headlines, and that is when Copenhagen Pride reached out to SYV Pride,” explains Lastra.

As a “sister” city of Solvang, which coincidentally calls itself the “Danish Capital of America,” the actual Danish city of Copenhagen– a very LGBTQIA+ friendly city– found its ears ringing when news reached them of the Solvang mayor’s and council’s decision to deny support of the Valley’s Pride celebration. “Copenhagen Pride got in touch with us to offer their support from one Pride organization to another,” says Lastra. “Together we worked with Lord Mayor Andersen of Copenhagen to write a letter to the mayor of Solvang encouraging him to support the local LGBTQIA+ residents and reminding him of Denmark’s long-standing history of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community.” 

Thanks to the support from allies both local and international, those championing Pride Month in the Valley won the fight for fair public representation, or as SYV Pride would call it, “equality without exception,” as the Solvang City Council later reversed their initial decision. In a room packed full of LGBTQIA+ residents and allies, Mayor Infanti cast the deciding vote of approval in allowing eight Pride banners to fly for two weeks in downtown Solvang during June 2023. 

The partnership between SYV Pride and Copenhagen did not end after the waving of the rainbow flag. That August the SYV Pride crew were invited to attend Copenhagen Pride and co-lead the parade with the Copenhagen team. Lastra recalls the incredible event: “The parade included an estimated 50,000 participants, with hundreds of thousands of spectators supporting. We also were given the opportunity to speak alongside Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s nephew and founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation.” On their trip they were also given a private tour of city hall with Lord Mayor Andersen, went to a private reception with ambassadors from New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, and attended workshops and events hosted by Copenhagen Pride. 

The backlash SYV Pride faced in 2022 and 2023 reminded not only SYV Pride founders, but the community at large, that the Santa Ynez Valley is not immune to the anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric that is happening on a national level in this country.

However, SYV Pride and its many allies in the Valley will not be silenced nor deterred in their mission to spread love and provide support to the at-risk queer youth of the Valley. “Despite hateful and ugly words, we continue to do our work of creating a more inclusive and loving community,” promises SYV Pride. “We choose to not give hate the power of our attention and instead focus on the incredible support of this community and our mission. The LGBTQIA+ community is not going anywhere. We will continue to stand together with love, dignity, and most of all, pride.”

Along with the founding board members, Dani Tupper, owner of the local Barbed Wire Saloon, Kylie Tigard, retired fashion liaison for Ralph Lauren, and Gracie Barbara, head coach of Santa Barbara Community Rowing, make up the intrepid team of dedicated SYV Pride volunteers. The organization is a true labor of love for its team, who give tirelessly to ensure the nonprofit’s mission is realized. “When you get to be part of such a wonderful community and see the impact you’re making on a very real, daily scale, the hard work is worth the countless hours,” shares Lastra. “I believe in this community and I am reminded and humbled on a daily basis by the fact that love does win. There is enough space at the table for us all, and that when we show up as our authentic selves, we allow others to do the same.”

The future at SYV Pride is bright. With more support now than ever, the roadblocks of the past are just that. From community leaders to Lastra’s own neighbors, support for Pride is at an all-time high in both public and private spaces. Thanks to all the love, donations, and volunteers, 2024 Pride promises to be a rousing success. The theme of this year’s SYV Pride event?  “Small Town, Big Heart” 

The Santa Ynez Valley—come for the wine, stay for the love.

For those interested in learning more about SYV Pride and supporting their cause, visit  www.syvpride.org.

ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF DEBORAH CHADSEY