By Margie M. Palmer
It all started with a Facebook post
In 2011 a small group of friends decided they’d take a day trip to the San Diego County Fair; that friendly gathering has since blossomed into a daylong, full-fledged celebration of the LGBT community.
This year’s Out at the Fair (OATF) will take place on Saturday, June 11, at the San Diego County Fair (SDCF), held annually at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. As in previous years, the event will feature a full day of family-friendly activities and entertainment and will take place in the popular Paddock area.
“We are excited that all of the nonprofits will also be in the Paddock this year,” said Martha Henderson, Del Mar Fairgrounds event coordinator. “In past years, they have been at the Infield Pavilion. We think this will get them more visibility to share all the great things they are doing for our community.”
SDCF Marketing Manager Luis Valdivia credits the well-known Hillcrest deejay, DJ Will Z, as being the event’s brainchild.
“He’s the one who got this started as being an unofficial Gay Days,” Valdivia said. “[In 2012] we got wind of this when he started posting stuff about the second edition on social media. He wound up posting something on my Facebook page and after I heard about it I got in touch. Now we’re in our sixth year.”
OATF is the only official LGBT event at any county fair in the U.S., Henderson noted.
“Back when all this started, I told our then-deputy general manager that we should partner with an organization that has the widest reach in the LGBT community and make this event part of the ‘Out at’ series,” Henderson said. “She loved the idea and that’s how we wound up partnering with San Diego Pride.”
San Diego Pride’s Director of Development Sarafina Scapicchio described Henderson, who coincidentally was Pride’s “Volunteer of the Year” in 2015, as being an amazing volunteer and the ‘tour-de-force’ that helps make things happen both on the Pride side and the Del Mar Fairgrounds side.
“Our mission is to increase pride and respect for the LGBT community in general —locally, nationally and internationally, and part of that involves having LGBT events in non-traditional spaces,” Scapicchio said, adding that while the event does not raise money for San Diego Pride, it does help to further their mission. “Since we’ve had Out at the Fair the acceptance level [of the LGBT community] and our footprint at the fair has grown.”
“Everyone at Pride and here at the Fairgrounds knows and trusts that everything I do is for the good of everyone and the entire community,” Henderson said. “Working for both has earned me that trust and respect.”
The feedback from the LGBT community, along with non-LGBT fairgoers, has been very positive.
“It’s been really encouraging when you have straight couples with their kids walk by and give words of encouragement and say they’re happy that we’re doing this,” Valdiva said, noting that OATF is by no means a private party.
“The fair is for everyone and we’ve made every effort to include every community from San Diego County,” he continued. “We have entertainment that caters to the Hispanic and African-American communities and we also have the Asian Cultural Festival. We want everyone to mingle and this may sound cliché but [OATF] is just another baby step in helping integrate the LGBT community into the general community.”
Henderson looks forward to the fair and OATF every year.
“This year’s theme ‘Mad About the Fair’ is very exciting,” she said. “The theme exhibit, located in the Activity Center, is going to be awesome and we are all excited for everyone to see it.
“As for OATF, I just want to be sure everyone knows that the Fair is a safe space for the entire community,” Henderson said. “To have a day specifically to celebrate [us] means a lot to me. I am appreciative to San Diego Pride for the work they do to help communicate this to the local LGBT community, and I am so grateful to have a management team that supports it and encourages it.”
Same-day adult tickets for Out at Fair are available for purchase at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for $16. Those age 62 and older can purchase tickets for $9; while tickets for kids ages 6 to 12 are also available for $9. Advance tickets can be purchased at ticketmaster.com.
Information regarding the Out at the Fair event line up is available also online at outatthefair.com.
—Editor Morgan M. Hurley contributed to this report.
—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.