Be prepared, this is a long one for me.
I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I should write this post.
When I moved here in 1997, from Dallas, Texas I had attended one Pride celebration in my life and that was, well, in Dallas. It was in the mid-eighties and feeling free and easy about be-bopping on down to Pride was not done lightly. It was dangerous on many levels. Aside from the very real possibility of being physically in harm’s way, if your job depended on being in the closet or your neighbors didn’t know, than you had to think more than twice about what being photographed or spotted at Pride could realistically mean for your life. There was no such thing as safety in numbers.
As I mentioned, I moved here in 1997 and the first Portland Pride festival that I attended, I actually attended as a vendor, in 2000. With only Dallas to compare to, Portland’s Pride was HUGE. At the time, the festival was not gated and so many of us vendors actually camped out overnight with our booths. My first Portland Pride lasted thirty-six hours! At no time did it occur to me to feel afraid, or to worry about “being spotted” by the wrong person. And it didn’t occur to me to feel alone. Going home that Sunday evening, I remember stopping at some little store on the way home, and it dawning on me that THEN I felt out of place, like the outside world was the odd place. And I did feel alone, and exposed.
I bring this up as a preamble to what Pride means to me. Throughout most of the time that I’ve lived here, Pride, or more specifically the organization that puts it together every year, has had a fairly negative image in our community. High drama, personality conflicts, (possible) financial shenanigans, power plays have all been played out and eagerly reported in one publication or another over the years, at one point even being accused of abandoning the LGBTQ community. I have to admit that this is a large part of why I never gave getting involved with Pride a second thought.
As I began to get more involved in Portland and Oregon politics and the community in general, it dawned on me that I heard a lot of things from a lot of people about what is wrong with Pride and how it should be run. It also occurred to me that without exception, none of those people were involved with Pride, and had no intention of being involved, myself included. That changed a couple of years ago, pretty much by accident. There was some pretty decent discussion amongst other students at PCC, which I attended at the time, and the general feeling was “Pride is so over” and “What’s the point”? I was really taken aback by this and I realized how complacent we had all become. Having lived here for a couple of Measure 9’s and then Measure 36, how dangerous that complacency truly was, hit me over the head. Experiencing the fight over DP’s and non-discrimination has only strengthened that awareness.
I started out simply volunteering over Pride weekend, got to know the Pride Board at the time and watched just how hard they worked their asses off to put the festival together. The next year, I joined the Board as Volunteer Coordinator. I didn’t feel like I knew what the heck I was doing, but I knew it needed to be done. I knew all that Pride stands for needed to be guarded and hopefully re-shown the light of day. This year, I am the Board President, which sounds ever so much more glamorous than it is! I don’t think I would have taken the position if I hadn’t gotten to know the dedication of the small core of people who volunteer on the Board and who are absolutely committed to helping to lift up our community, strengthening our ties with, and giving back to, that community, in all its diversity, which has made Portland’s Pride the third largest in the country. That commitment is the driving force behind most of our decisions this year. We KNOW that for the LGBTQ community to achieve full equality and to be strong, all of us have to contribute to that. Now, is Pride a big party? Heck yeah! But that’s not the point of Pride. The point of Pride is to celebrate our community and to show that we have the strength to come together en masse, without fear and without hiding.
I’ve gone through this long-winded rant because I truly believe that the spirit of Pride is important to all of us, or should be, and that it doesn’t happen on its own, or in a vacuum. Pride celebrations can, and have died. I don’t want to ever see that happen here, and I KNOW that we can’t afford for it to happen. As corny as it sounds, Pride is just like any other social or community movement. Someone else ISN’T always going to make sure it happens. WE have to make sure that it happens.