I’m proud of my peeps. You know who I mean, all of us who are lesbian/ gay/ bi/ trans/ intersex/ two-spirit/ asexual/ pansexual/ queer/ questioning and allies who have been living, working and fighting for our full equal rights and the freedom to — don’t be shocked by this — be ourselves.
I’m proud of all of us, proud of our resilience, our perseverance, our creativity, our sense of humor, our courage and our community. I’m always proud of us, but I admit, I don’t always haul my proud self out to our local Eugene-Springfield Pride Festival. Some years I just haven’t felt like going. It’s hot. It’s crowded. I have the T-shirt.
I remember our first Eugene-Springfield Pride Festival in Amazon Park back in 1992. That was the year Lon Mabon and his nefarious Oregon Citizen’s Alliance (OCA) put Measure 9 on the ballot which, in case it isn’t burned into your memory like it is in mine, would have changed Oregon’s Constitution to declare that homosexuality is “abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse.”
Ah, what a campaign year that was. Fighting the OCA brought our community together. We came out in droves. Our allies took a stand. We should’ve bought stock in political buttons.
That first Pride festival was all about celebrating just how normal, right, natural and agreeable (antonym of perverse) we are. The grass was green, the sky was blue and the rainbows were flying. I still recall the platform stage set up behind Amazon Community Center and all the brave souls who stepped up to address the small but exuberant crowd. In those days it was risky to side with us, and we cheered like crazy for the few elected officials who dared to speak out for liberty and justice for all. We played music, sang, danced, hugged and registered to vote.
That campaign was a tough fight and much mud was flung our way, but that November we ended up beating the OCA by more than 12 percent. Our ability to celebrate ourselves proved empowering and powerful.
I can’t count how many local Pride celebrations I’ve been to since then — a LOT. When there was no specific political battle under way it was fun to just soak up the good vibes. I’d stroll the booths, buy raffle tickets and wrack my brain to remember the name of the old friend I was hugging. Being there to witness and be witnessed made me — and I think all of us — feel stronger and less vulnerable.
I once heard Timothy Leary talk about the power of the be-ins of the 1960s. He compared it to birds in flight that will take turns soaring above the rest of the flock to see how many of them there are. Pride is like that — we get to see ourselves en masse, living proof that none of us is “the only one.”
Sure, our Pride festival in Alton Baker Park is a little rinky-dink compared to the big celebrations and parades I’ve been to in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. I recommend planting those vivid images in your memory if you get the chance. Forever after, whenever you’re the only LGBTI2-SAPQQA person somewhere, you can summon a mental picture that fuels your queer pride. Ever since I saw SF Pride’s Dykes on Bikes I have been able to summon up the sight and sound and swelling pride, which comes in very handy at certain family gatherings and other times of isolation and alienation. Even the Eugene-Springfield Pride Festival, small townish as it may be, will imprint a colorful gaiety on your mental hard drive that you can replay in future moments of need.
And this year especially, with so much to be proud of, so much to celebrate, how can we NOT go? We just had this huge victory in the Supreme Court. The national tide has turned and supporters of full equality now vastly outnumber the bigots. And Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home won the Tony!
Pride is OUR holiday, and we happily share it with all people of goodwill who support and celebrate freedom. This year I don’t care how hot and crowded it is. Wifey and I are going. I might even get another T-shirt.
The Eugene-Springfield Pride Festival is noon to 7 pm Saturday, Aug. 8, at Alton Baker Park in Eugene. Free with a $5 suggested donation. See facebook.com/EugPRIDE.