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Q&A: Whitney Weddell, Organizer of Bakersfield’s Equality March, June 11

By Randy Villegas, South Kern Sol

Local community members are organizing a National Equality March in Bakersfield to remember the attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, one year ago at 9 a.m. this Sunday, June 11. The march will begin in the parking lot near Home Goods, 5510 Stockdale Hwy., and end at the First Congregational Church, 5 Real Rd.

Joining a nationwide movement, this march is aimed to have residents stand up, and speak out in solidarity with the LGBTQ community, advance LGBTQ rights, and demand health care for all regardless of immigration status. The march is sponsored by Bakersfield’s LGBTQ community and the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

South Kern Sol spoke to Whitney Weddell, one of the lead organizers for the march, and talked about what inspired her to organize this march.

What inspired you to organize this march?

I was originally approached by Dean Welliver about organizing a pride march here in Bakersfield. When we saw D.C. was doing a “Resist” march, we thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to do one here! LA was doing one, San Francisco was doing one, and we wanted to give local people a chance to participate in the same spirit, without necessarily having to travel.

What are some challenges that the LGBTQ community has faced throughout the years here in Kern?

This is a particularly conservative community, and so when gains are made statewide; it can be very difficult for many of those things to trickle down to Bakersfield and Kern. Things like protections for our transgender students. The Kern High School District has been somewhat resistant to the idea that transgender people, are well…people. It’s been interesting fighting that battle when it was state law. That’s just one example. Here people feel like these laws are outrageous. When in fact, they are really just recognizing the inherit humanity of LGBTQ people.

Why is it important for people to attend this march?

First of all, to be part of something bigger than just Bakersfield. On a spiritual level, we are joining with people nationally who are holding similar marches across the country. Given our current administration, LGBTQ rights are certainly in the cross hairs. We’ve heard already twice that there may be an executive order coming down, that would put rights that we have at risk. Marriage, and being able to go use stores and hotels, may be threatened by this administration. We all need to stand up against that. Red state, blue state, it doesn’t matter. Federal protections for those things are important. We not only want to protect the gains that we’ve made in the last 30 years, but we want to continue moving forward.

Why do you think is it important for activists and marchers to be intersectional?

For me, it comes down to the idea that rights don’t just exist in a vacuum. If we are going to establish rights for people, then we accept that rights should exist for all human beings, regardless of who they are. When you have large numbers of people who are members of marginalized communities, we who are members of those marginalized communities can be more powerful if we join together. If we in the LGBTQ community were to say something like  “Sorry that’s not our issue” to the immigrant community, we are both weaker really. On the other hand, if we embrace immigrant struggles, struggles of Muslim people, struggles of people with health care, etc. We all come together and become a much larger group. If we embrace each other and support each other, we have more opportunity to change things.

Why do you think it’s important for residents to march here at home in Bakersfield instead of attending a march in a different city?

For me partly, it’s an out of the closet thing. Let’s not pretend there are no gay people or LGBTQ people in Bakersfield. Let’s not pretend that we can only do this by going 100 miles away and saying that we’ve marched so proudly as long as we’re not anywhere near our home. Let us be proud here. Let us say to our families and to our friends who will see us on television on the news that: We are Proud to be from Bakersfield and we are proud to live here, and make a difference in our own community. Rather than just march somewhere else, and then what? Go back into a closet when we get home? I don’t think so.

Is there anything marchers should wear or bring this Sunday?

We are planning to bring signs and flags. People should feel free to bring any of their own if they’d like. We have a number of messages that we are trying to get across, so if they have a sign that incorporates one of those messages, by all means bring it! Dress for the weather, plan for hot weather in the morning. We’ll be providing a large amount of water along the route. We’re planning to pretty much bring everything you would need. I can’t think of anything that you have to bring, we will be providing things for everyone who shows up.

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