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Pacific County has created a well-received rural Pride

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Amiran White
Amiran White

Pacific County will hold its third-annual Pride celebrations in Raymond and Long Beach on June 22 and 23, respectively. The two rural towns have a combined population of just under 5,000 — but don't let that fool you: the county's month of festivities will include a drag fundraiser, a Pride parade, kayaking, bingo, lots of live music, and spaces for small businesses.

The celebration started as a small private dinner party eight years ago, but it became a larger public event after co-coordinators Jovon Vaughn, Jeff Karnatz, and Jessica Marie Porter noticed a growing need for LGBTQ+ visibility, especially as negative rhetoric about drag queens became more common. Vaughn, who is also the executive director of the Willapa Harbor Chamber of Commerce, a Raymond city council member, and the owner of two businesses, attributes the ability to make Pride happen to the various roles LGBTQ+ community members play.

"Over the last three to four years, we've had large groupings of LGBTQIA families moving into our community," Vaughn said. "It's one of the elements as to why we can [put on] Pride [events]. Most of the people involved in this have [worn] many hats."

Originally, the event was intended to be one day long, but the varying demographics of each town called for different kinds of celebrations. Vaughn says that Raymond, in the north, has a lively workforce, while Long Beach is more tourism-focused.

"We created this difference in kind of the way that each area celebrates," Vaughn said. "In the north end of the county, you're not celebrating on a Tuesday."

Amiran White  

Family oriented
As for the celebrations, the co-coordinators have taken a family-oriented approach. Vaughn described it as a "Gay family picnic," with a beer garden in one corner and a bouncy house on the other.

"We aim for it to be family-friendly — I know that's such a weird heteronormative word to use, but we use that to say, 'As much as we appreciate and love all of the colors of the rainbow, we have to recognize where we are,'" he said. "I want...everyone in the family have something that they're able to enjoy."

So far, the approach has worked, and the larger community has accepted the celebration over time. Vaughn says it was originally challenging to get a local nonprofit for motorcycle enthusiasts to participate, but the group now handles the festival's security for free. Last year the festivities attracted 14 protesters, who were far outnumbered.

He talked to the protesters too, on the back of a flower truck with a loudspeaker.

"Watching my community walk behind me on top of this rickety flower flatbed truck with my speaker and a little group of protesters, but looking down the street and seeing four hundred people in the street, and probably another hundred on the side of the street all rainbow-flag waving and clapping — that's who we really are," Vaughn said. "That one and a half percent, that little tiny group of people didn't impact the experience at all for any of the kids, any of the people who were part of it."

Vaughn thinks that maybe it's small rural communities where it's easiest to create the most change.

"For visitors that...are willing to take the trip down and celebrate with us, it will show [them] that not everything [they're] reading and seeing on the TV and the internet and everywhere else [where] we're being told that there's all these divisive issues, that's not true everywhere," he said. "There is a community of people who are excited to get to know you and they want to know you. They may not do it perfectly, they may fumble trying to be welcoming, but it's always from the place of trying to open their arms to you instead of trying to raise their arms against you."