Bill Sullivan attended his first Eugene Pride festival around 2000. At the time, it featured a small stage, one or two food trucks and about 15 awnings under Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge, he says. Now the president of the annual Eugene-Springfield Pride in the Park, he’s watched the event grow. “Now we have the entire park — it’s incredible,” he says of the location in Alton Baker Park.
After the biggest Pride yet in 2019 — with about 130 vendors and $7,500 raised for Pride’s LGBQT youth scholarship fund — and then no Pride festival in 2020 (when Pride instead joined Black Unity in holding the March for Black Trans Lives during the COVID-19 pandemic), Pride in the Park is back on Aug. 14, with a few differences from previous years.
After COVID-19 restrictions started easing up in May and June, Pride staff, who had been planning options for a hybrid or online event, decided to go for in-person, Sullivan says. Normally, they start planning the festival in February.
“It was like, OK, can we do this?” Sullivan says. “But as soon as we went live with our vendor registration and sponsor registration, it was amazing the amount of support and turn out that was coming back to us.”
To allow social distancing between booths, Pride is capped at 100 vendors that will be spread out over a larger area, Sullivan says. This still leaves room for a larger than average Pride; in 2017, there were about 70 vendors, and 2018 saw about 80. As in 2019, the festival will start after a Pride march downtown. Participants are invited to assemble at Spectrum Bar at 9:30 am Aug. 14, and the march to Alton Baker Park starts at 10:30 am.
Pride has also taken steps to improve accessibility, Sullivan says, partially in response to community feedback from previous years. Stages and food trucks will be set up closer to sidewalks for wheelchair accessibility and there will be ASL signers for both the main stages all day.
Additionally, staff are preparing for potential anti-Pride protesters this year, Sullivan says, with increased security and regulations preventing anyone from bringing signs inside the festival. At 2019’s Pride, protesters, who Sullivan believes were largely people visiting from out of town for the God, Guns and Liberty rally that took place the same day, stood nearby with anti-abortion signs. Pride has only seen protestors two years out of the past 10, Sullivan says, but “you always have to have it in the back of your mind, which is unfortunate because we should be able to just have fun.”
Another difference this year is that Pride will feature only local performers. In the past, Eugene’s Pride has brought in national names like Pandora Boxx, a drag queen who competed in RuPaul’s Drag Race, but this year it will center Oregon performers.The line up includes the blues band the Vipers featuring Deb Cleveland, the Oregon Mozart Players and a Comedy Hour with local comedians. “We want to celebrate community and bring our local element in as much as possible,” Sullivan says.
The festival will also feature Work Dance Company, a hip-hop and jazz dance group based in Eugene, the drag troupe Glamazons, other local drag personalities and a drag queen storytime.
Sam Thrower, a local drag queen who raps and sings as Slutashia, and Jason Wood, another queen with the drag name Fanny Rugburn, will perform their new song “Dream Big,” written during the pandemic, for the first time at the festival.
After enjoying dressing up for Halloween in 2015, Thrower started drag, now his artform and way to express “that little bit of feminine side I’ve always had,” he says. Thrower, as Slutashia, is a repeat winner of “Best Drag Queen” in Eugene Weekly’s annual Best of Eugene readers’ poll.
“Before drag, I didn’t really have an outlet like that,” he says. “It gave me this whole new sense of power.” He performed at Pride in 2017 as a singer but didn’t start performing in drag at the festival until 2018, which changed his whole experience.
“When you’re at Pride as a drag queen, it’s like being the Disney character at Disneyland,” he says. “You just feel like a star on the red carpet walking around and talking to people.”
In larger cities, many drag queens worked through the pandemic, but in Eugene, there wasn’t a lot going on, Thrower says. He did a few online shows and some social media engagement, “but it’s not the same as being on stage,” and Pride will be his second show back, he says.
Thrower says he’s a stronger artist than he was before lockdown because of the extra time it gave him to reflect and refine his skills. During the pandemic, he and Wood created “Dream Big,” an “inspirational Pride song” based on “What Dreams Are Made Of” by Lizzie McGuire that incorporates Thrower’s original rap lyrics, he says.
“I hope when people see me at Pride, they’ll see me elevated from the last time they saw me,” Thrower says. He says he’s excited but nervous to be performing in person again and plans to wear a mask at Pride that matches his outfit.
Eugene-Springfield Pride is unique because it lets the LGBTQ community see the other local people and businesses who support them, Sullivan says. “There’s all these different factions in the community; this gives them a chance to come and just be one for at least one day a year,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan says the flow of support goes both ways between community members and businesses and that it means a lot to see businesses openly rooting for the LGBTQ community.
“Back when I first came out, if a business put a rainbow flag in their window, they would have been vandalized or torched,” he says. “For me, after 40 years, to see those gradual changes — these are steps. It’s baby steps, but it’s growth.”
Pride in the Park Festival takes place from 11 am to 6 pm Aug. 14 in Alton Baker Park. Visit EugenePride.org for more information. Masks are required for the unvaccinated and recommended for the vaccinated.