Representing City of Hope in the recent Greater Palm Springs Pride Parade was a joyous moment for couple Lester Wakefield, 70, and Carlos Pelaitai, 80. It was a moment, they said, that spoke of inclusiveness, acceptance and pride.
City of Hope gave Wakefield a second chance at life. In December 2014, Wakefield was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He received chemotherapy at a local hospital before coming to City of Hope in the summer of 2015 to receive a lifesaving bone marrow stem cell transplant from Jonathan Bottom, a Bay area resident.
Wakefield has been in remission since then. After surviving such a journey together, the couple, who has been together 36 years, decided to finally tie the knot
in January 2017.
“People who came to the parade from as far as Arizona saw us, and it could not have been a prouder moment for us,” said Pelaitai, a Duarte resident, who rode in the parade as an Ambassador of Hope. “City of Hope saved Lester’s life and to be able to represent City of Hope before so many people was like a dream come true for us.”
“There were more than 66,000 spectators at parade, and everyone was so happy, getting along,” Wakefield said. “I looked at the people on the sidewalk and thought, ‘So many of them have gone through the same stuff I have been through over the years but we are now at the point where we can be open and accepted.’”
Wakefield and Pelaitai rode in a shiny maroon Chevy Camaro convertible donated for the parade by Abel Raygoza, Sodexo food services manager at City of Hope.
Raygoza, his partner and friends spent weeks working on rainbow-themed decorations for the car, including a backdrop of a colorful peacock’s train.
I’m happy to do this every year,” said Raygoza, who for the second year has donated his convertible for a Pride parade. “We are showing everyone that City of Hope welcomes all people.”
Approximately 30 members and supporters of City of Hope’s Pride in the City
diversity group, as well as employees and family members, proudly marched in the parade, walking past art galleries, art deco buildings and parade spectators on Palm Canyon Drive. They handed out City of Hope water bottles, sunscreen and lip balm, and also tried to raise awareness about preventive health care, touting such signs as “HPV vaccination is cancer prevention” and “Paps Matter for Trans Men.”
“When we participate in any city pride parade, whether it be in Los Angeles or Palm Springs, our goal is to let our communities know that City of Hope is a welcoming and safe place for them to receive medical care, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation,” said Tracy Gibson, senior executive assistant in City of Hope’s general counsel's office and part of the leadership team for Pride in the City. She also coordinates parade activities for the diversity group. “It is a valuable opportunity to spread the word about preventive care in the community.”
Pride in the City also strives to create an accepting and inclusive environment that serves the needs and interests of all City of Hope employees, patients and families.
It’s a mission that has produced positive results. City of Hope was recently named a “Leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality”
by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, for its efforts to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for LGBTQ patients.