David Nielsen was being interviewed on Sunday by a Sacramento TV reporter about Lodi’s new Rainbow Project organization when a man disrupted the interview and shoved the TV camera away.
“He’s the reason why we need to come to meet,” Nielsen said at the beginning of Sunday’s organizational meeting of the group of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.
The LGBT group was officially named the Lodi Rainbow Project by a vote of the dozen people who attended Sunday’s meeting at the Lodi Public Library conference room. The group plans to provide an open, safe and inclusive space committed to educating Lodi-area residents about the gay community, according to the group’s mission statement.
The group is needed because Lodi has many more gay residents than the community realizes, said Nielsen, who is known in the community for battling gang activity in Lodi’s Eastside.
“At least 150, at the top of my head,” Nielsen said, when asked how many LGBT people he’s aware of in Lodi.
The Rainbow Project is not intended to be a “dating society,” Nielsen said, and they won’t flaunt their sexual preference.
“It’s not about recruiting,” he said. “It’s not in-your-face behavior. We want to make sure gay citizens are the best they can be.”
The Lodi Rainbow Project was formed in December by Lodi resident Oscar Orozco Orejel to provide gays referrals to help gay people. They include organizations like the San Joaquin County Pride Center in Stockton; the county Department of Fair Housing; the Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBT people; and an organization called Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
A dozen gay people and their supporters, ranging from a Tokay High School sophomore to an 81-year-old woman, gathered in the conference room at the Lodi Public Library to determine its goals and purpose. Orejel asked everyone at the beginning of the meeting to treat each other with peace, love, unity and respect.
A longer term goal is for gay Lodi residents to be accepted for who they are.
Traci Winters, 44, who is living in Lodi for the second time, said she hopes to get Lodi residents who aren’t accepting of gays to come out of their comfort zone.
“(Personal) growth begins when you reach the end of your comfort zone,” Winters said.
That comfort zone can include any aspect of your personal or professional life, not just sexual orientation.
Winters said she got out of her own comfort zone by attending Sunday’s meeting because she didn’t know anyone who was present or exactly what the group wanted to do.
“I could have stayed home and done something else,” Winters. “I would never have met these wonderful people.”
The Rainbow Project also elected officers, discussed registering with the state as an official nonprofit organization, established tentative meeting dates, and planned a picnic at Lodi Lake and a charter bus trip from Lodi to the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade in June.
Orejel was elected chairman, Nielsen is vice chairman, Daryn Alsup is secretary/treasurer, Traci Winters and Chris Beach are also treasurers, and Cole McLean is Tokay High youth liaison.
A woman was also elected community liaison, but she requested that she not be named publicly until she discusses her involvement with the Rainbow Project with family members.
The next Rainbow Project meeting will be at 1 p.m. March 18 at the Lodi Public Library, 201 W. Locust St. The public is invited.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.