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Tacoma Pride Festival: A resounding success

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Photo by Benny Loy
Photo by Benny Loy

Attendees approaching Tacoma's Pride Festival last Saturday saw balloon archways marking sectioned-off roads for the event, which spanned from Dorky's Arcade to Fireman's Park; five streets and the park's length were lined with booths. At a stage at the intersection of Pacific Avenue and South Eighth Street, the host enthusiastically announced to the crowd which performers were next. Meanwhile, three ASL interpreters signed along to the announcements and lyrics.

Photo by Benny Loy  

The weather was mild initially, but as the day progressed, the sun grew brighter, and the lines for shaved ice and lemonade grew longer. At a volunteer booth, I was introduced to one of the organizers, Rainbow Center's financial coordinator, Faith Brown, who graciously showed me around and shared how proud she was of the event. She said Rainbow Center has seven staff members and a new executive director, who started in March. It was clear that Rainbow Center had worked very hard to organize and run Tacoma Pride.

Brown found Quincy Tyson, the new executive director, who was more than happy to relate how excited he was about the success of Tacoma Pride. "This is the biggest pride we've had," he said, adding that they were expecting "up to twenty thousand people" throughout the festival and that he was touched to see that "everybody is engaged."

Tyson added that one of the changes this year was "cutting the beer garden to make more room for vendors," and now there were around 160 booths taking part.

He made sure to include that this was only possible with the volunteers and the support from the city. The chance to "pull together the community" for this event made him smile as he scanned the crowd. "The more community you invite in, the more we can make an awesome experience," he said.

Rainbow Center is a resource center and community educator serving the community for over twenty years. Its mission statement says, "Through education, advocacy, and celebration, Rainbow Center expands resources and safe space for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Two-Spirit, and allied community." The organization also hosts groups that it affectionately refers to as "the Queer Power Nation." These include the Pierce County AIDS Foundation's free HIV testing on Thursdays, the Gender Diversity Family Support Group, the Tacoma Tmen, Puget Sound Queer Families, and an LGBTQ book club.

Photo by Benny Loy  

Protesters and hugs
If you attend any Pride events, you will see at least one protester claiming that our community is bound for brimstone. They often use their interpretation of their religion to call LGBTQIA+ people sinners.

Thankfully, this is not the view of every believer. Several booths representing local affirming and accepting churches handed out hand-fans and hugs. Two protesters were mainly ignored as they aimlessly marched with their banner. A few attendees took this as an opportunity to spread joy by countering their message with humor and art.

One attendee dressed as Jesus marched in front of them, holding a sign stating, "Jesus had two dads." Two musicians cut into the proselytizing by playing their ukulele and violin for the crowd. Another person wearing very little approached with a sign saying, "You know what kids should not be exposed to? Hatred."

Other booths included organizations such as Minority Vets, Dads M.O.V.E., Oasis Youth Center, and Pride Counseling NW.

Photo by Benny Loy  

The park was reserved for makers, including those selling custom rubber stamps, cute candles, and gorgeous flowers (from Fifi's Flower Market). At Fifi's booth, drag queen Athena Kiss sported a giant, handmade flower headdress, stating that she had "just finished it last night." She handed out flyers for an upcoming drag show and a flower arrangement class in September at the Fife Community Center.

Photo by Benny Loy  

Spotting two Satanists offering hugs, I approached to take them up on their offer. They said they were from Olympia and visiting to share love, water, and sunscreen. Asked whether they were there to represent a Satanist church, one answered, "We're independent, but we offer ritual services." On Instagram, they go by Hexcommunicated and offer to perform weddings, funerals, unbaptisms, and custom rituals.

As I waded through the crowd, I realized that there were many people in wheelchairs making their way to each booth. Not only was the event accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing, who rely on ASL interpretation, but the flat, paved roads provided an environment that was inclusive of people with physical disabilities as well. Whether one was using a walker because of aging joints or a child in an electric wheelchair, all could enjoy the festivities without environmental impediments.

Photo by Benny Loy  

On the stage, the performers sang about their Queer experiences and attendees danced. One singer told the crowd, "I'm from Montreal, Canada. I flew here yesterday, woke up, and then saw all this, and thought, 'Oh, thank God I'm Gay'!"

Rainbow Center, the volunteers, and the city created an incredible Pride Festival, attended by locals and many Queer people from nearby cities (and apparently not so near too), making it a resounding success.