by Lorie Lewis Ham
June is Pride month, but sadly, there are many places that still don’t acknowledge and recognize that fact. Former Selma, CA resident Lance Nelson decided that he wanted to make an effort to change that, starting with the area where he grew up. Lance was born and raised in Selma and attended Wilson Elementary School, Lincoln Middle School, and Selma High School. He graduated from Selma High School in 2006. Lance is currently attending Columbia University, majoring in human rights with an interest in equal access to education. His future goal is to work for a nonprofit, and perhaps one day, even the United Nations.
KRL: If you don’t mind sharing, what was it like for you growing up in this Valley?
Lance: First off, I have amazing parents who I never doubted loved me. That is not always the case for LGBTQ youth.
That being said, the majority of my experience outside of our home was miserable. As far back as I can remember, I was terrified of school and walking around Selma in general because I would be called homophobic slurs by other boys my age. I had not even come out yet, yet alone learned anything about the LGBTQ community, so I took that bullying as a sign that something was seriously wrong with me.
I was the skinny kid with only girls as friends. I had more interest in performing at the old Selma Art Center rather than playing sports. I was soft-spoken and shy. I was an easy target for those seeking to cause harm and I had zero self-confidence to protect myself.
KRL: I see that you have a YouTube channel. How did that come about and do you have a specific goal with your channel or is it just for fun?
Lance: I created my YouTube channel to share my experiences of being bullied and how those experiences manifested into social anxiety and other issues I am still working through. People tend to think that bullying is a normal part of childhood, but the reality is that those experiences can follow a person into adulthood and can be very hard to overcome if not addressed.
KRL: What inspired you to reach out to your hometown to ask that they do something for Pride?
Lance: When I returned to school and enrolled as a 30-year-old college student at San Diego Mesa College, I was worried that my experience in Selma would be reflected in my college experience. I was so scared to return to a college campus that I sat in the parking lot and debated with myself over just going home. I then noticed a banner at the entrance of the campus with the words “Mesa Pride” and “Safe Zone,” written alongside the LGBTQ rainbow flag.
I understand that for those who have not experienced being physically threatened or told that there is something seriously wrong with them because of who they are, it may be difficult to understand what seeing those words of support and the rainbow flag symbolize. For me, that banner was just enough to give me the courage to go to my first class.
Although I was still terrified that I would be judged again, I knew that the college had my back, and that was everything. Not only did the college’s display of support allow me to show up, which I believe is the most important part, it also encouraged me to be the proud student that I unfortunately was not in Selma. Because of that, I quickly found myself diving into academic research around LGBTQ topics, and with every semester, I chipped away at what happened in Selma and fell in love with school for the first time.
The reason that story is so important in my asking the City of Selma to recognize Pride Month is that although college has been one of the best things that ever happened to me, I often wonder how much more I could have learned, had that display of support I found at age 30 in San Diego been there when I was a child in Selma. I will never know, but I do know that there are LGBTQ students and community members in Selma today who could benefit greatly from that same support.
KRL: Why do you feel this is important?
Lance: Visibility matters, as does feeling a connection to a community. And I truly believe that Selma’s residents want to be that community for their LGBTQ friends, family, and neighbors.
KRL: How did you go about that?
Lance: I put together a PowerPoint presentation that proposed the idea to Selma’s city council. In it, I highlighted both the importance of recognizing Pride Month for LGBTQ residents as well as explaining why the display is about the entire Selma community.
KRL: What was it like?
Lance: I felt confident in this passing because it is the right thing to do. I was also extremely proud of my mom for speaking on our behalf during the meeting.
KRL: What did they agree to do?
Lance: The initial request was for five Pride flags to be placed downtown, including one at Selma City Hall. That number has been increased to 10 flags due to community members calling in with support and offering donations for extra flags. The city will also have an official proclamation recognizing the month of June as Pride Month.
KRL: What are your future goals in regards to even more Pride celebrations in Selma?
Lance: As much as I would love to see a gathering of Selma’s diverse art, music and surrounding culture at a future Pride event, I am thankful to see this initial show of support. I have, however, been contacted by various community members asking how they can get involved and I would love to see the community come together down the road when it is safe to have such an in-person event.
KRL: You mentioned that your mom was involved in reaching out to Selma, so how did that come about and what was her role in this?
Lance: Although I was prepared to propose Selma Pride, my mom offered to speak on our behalf. I also felt that this was appropriate considering she is a Selma resident and is very involved with the surrounding community through Selma’s Beautification Committee and PFLAG of Fresno.
KRL: Did Propose Pride come about after reaching out to your hometown?
Lance: It did. I received messages through my social media asking how I went about getting Selma Pride to happen and I wanted to provide a template for others to use in their own hometowns. My dream would be for every town to send the message that, indeed, all are welcome, and diversity is our greatest strength.
KRL: What other towns have you reached out to and what has been the response?
Lance: I reached out to city leadership in Kingsburg, Delano, Madera, Sanger, Hanford, and Dinuba regarding Selma’s upcoming show of inclusion and asked them to take part. Mayor Bryan Osorio of Delano and Kingsburg Councilmember Jewel Hurtado were the only ones to voice a commitment to the LGBTQ community. Mayor Osorio shared his excitement for Selma and informed me that Delano proclaimed June as Pride Month in 2020 after community members approached the city with the idea.
KRL: Do you plan to continue reaching out to other cities in CA, or elsewhere?
Lance: I do. I would also like to encourage anyone that reads this article to reach out to their city leadership and propose Pride in their own hometown. I hope that after this past year, we can look around and think of new ways to lift each other up.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Lance: I would like to reassure every LGBTQ+ person in the Central Valley, or wherever you may be, that you are part of an amazing community that has persevered throughout history and has played a large role in the bettering of this world. You are valued. You are loved. You belong.
Watch for more Pride related articles in KRL this month!