By Brooks McLain, Marlie Heberling and Max Skorodinsky
People often ask why Eugene’s PRIDE in the Park Festival is held on the second Saturday in August every year. The easy answer is that we’re queer all year; so why not? It really comes down to logistics. Securing infrastructure needed to produce the event in June, in Eugene, is not feasible: too many other events. Plus, no rain in August!
The most important reason, though, is that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, two-spirit and asexual people, as well as gender, sexuality, and romantic minorities — and others in the LGBTQ2SIA+ and GSRM communities — have always faced multiple and intersecting challenges to our health and wellbeing, and support is needed for these communities at events year-round.
At almost all Pride festivals this year, and at many (including Eugene’s) in prior years; attendees are greeted with signs declaring their identity invalid and worthy of condemnation. We are heckled and, as was the case at Roseburg Pride last month, arrested at our own events for attempts to mitigate the harm to our community.
The constant barrage of legislation aimed at erasing us, of politicians using our identities to campaign on hate and our own internalizing of some of these messages, speaks to the necessity of holding Pride events year-round. Dedicated spaces of celebration, joy, connectedness and access to resources are essential for many queer folks. They can help ameliorate some of the disparate outcomes for the health of our community. We not only recognize these disparities; we seek to offer unique and culturally sustaining support during the festival to help address them.
For instance, according to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, LGB people experience higher rates of substance use disorder. For people in recovery, attending a Pride festival can be challenging as folks are confronted with old habits that they can’t partake in any longer. For some, substance use and processing addictions such as gambling turns innocent fun into a lifelong journey of recovery.
This year, we are creating a Sober Circle and facilitating a space to celebrate sobriety as well as offer educational and support resources for those struggling with addiction. We aim to shift the narrative: where folks in our community can celebrate our path to health, where your sober date is a cause for applause instead of a fear of relapse. Creating safe and entertaining spaces gives people a new voice of hope, recovery and an outlook for fun and adventure.
Pride is not just an uplifting celebration for the activists and entertainers (we truly do adore our drag queens!) who are in the throes of conflict in our society, but also for youth. Youth spoke up in the most recent Trevor Project study about experiencing discrimination in society, schools and even at home. Fewer than 40 percent of LGBTQ young people found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming. This often leads to increased concerns for mental health and symptoms of depression and suicidal concerns. Forty-one percent of LGBTQ young people seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year and 56 percent who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it.
To help alleviate these stressors, we aim to joyfully celebrate the varying identities of our kids in a dedicated Youth Zone. We hope that having a supportive space that includes fun and engaging activities helps to reduce stigma and encourages young people to live out loud in such a way that joy can be expressed instead of shame.
The challenges for LGBTQ+ and GRSM people are numerous, and Eugene PRIDE is working to support as many people in our community as we are able. A Veteran’s Village will help support those who have served in the armed forces, many of whom face additional challenges above what the community faces broadly. To counter the often aggressive religious and white supremacist protesters and reclaim part of the spiritual space, an interfaith area will be hosted for conversation, processing and healing with faith allies
Accessibility for disabled members of the community and people with disabilities is also top of mind, and we will have ASL interpretation on both stages, several ADA restrooms, a large, accessible parking area close to the event, water refill stations, misters and cooling neck wraps available to those who may struggle with heat. Also, we have oriented as many booths as possible toward sidewalks throughout Alton Baker Park and spaced booths out to provide air flow and ease of navigation.
It is truly incredible and uplifting to attend a Pride event if you are queer and even if you’re not! You see others like you, your identity is not tolerated but celebrated, and you can build networks of support that can sustain you in a world where segments of our society would prefer we not exist. Pride is for everyone in our community, and the organizing committee will continue efforts to make our annual celebration as inclusive and supportive as we are able. Happy Pride! ν