NORTH NATOMAS -- At first glance, it may have looked like just another festival at North Natomas Regional Park but Sunday was the first-ever Natomas Big Gay Celebration.
“That kind of outpouring and love from our community and saying, ‘We love you and we got your back.’ That's priceless,” said event organizer Doug Pieper.
The event celebrated inclusion and love to combat hate in the neighborhood.
It all started with a letter.
“I came home from work one day, actually, and I had a very hateful note on our front door directed at the LGBTQ community,” Pieper told FOX40.
The words hit him hard after years of dealing with discrimination.
“I came out of the closet when I was 16 in high school and within 24 hours, the entire school knew I was gay,” he said. “I started getting bomb threats and death threats and all this kind of stuff just for being me, for doing me. And so, when this happened, that immediately put me back in that place.”
Rather than get angry, this time Pieper decided to fight back.
“Not in my neighborhood. When hate knocks, I answer with love,” he said.
Pieper took to Facebook saying he wanted to host a community barbecue.
“Then everyone else went nuts and it's turned into this with over 40 vendors, two food trucks and a lot of sponsors and love,” he explained.
There were performances, kids’ activities and resources for LGBTQ youth. Police and city council members even joined in.
“There's so much divide in our country on every level, every level, and we're tired of it,” said Councilwoman Angelique Ashby. “So we really wanted to do something that would unite.”
Pieper saw the event as a good first step but knew his mission for inclusion won't stop here.
“I feel like our community has come a long way but I feel like some people have a long way to go. So, Natomas Big Gay Celebration 2020 is already being planned,” he said.