Across the country, June is recognized as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) Pride month in which nearly every major city hosts a Pride Parade.
Here in the Pacific Northwest it is no different. Seattle and Portland will host their respective Pride parades on June 25 and June 18. This will be Port-land’s 23rd Pride parade and Seattle’s 43rd, marking near milestones for both cities.
However, Saturday, June 10, marked a major milestone for Hood River, which celebrated its inaugural Pride parade sponsored and organized by the Columbia Gorge Pride Alliance (CGPA) and other businesses, organizations, and even churches in the Gorge.
At 8 a.m. people from up and down the Columbia Gorge, dressed in bright colors and draped in rainbow flags, began lining up on the corner of 6th and Oak streets and in the Hood River News parking lot. Members from the Hood River Valley High School Jazz Band, many of them also dressed in bright colors, began tuning their instruments.
Oak Street was closed off to traffic as the Grand Marshal Mark Nilsson sat waiting and waving cheerily in the back seat of a vintage white convertible Pontiac with a sign on the windshield reading “love, peace, respect, pride.”
A glance down the empty street had organizers Amy Martin and Megan Winn hoping that in an hour’s time, those sidewalks would be lined with people there to support the parade. They were not disappointed.
At 9 a.m. the roar of motorcycle engines ridden by a group of women out of Portland that called themselves “Dikes on Bikes” brought a now-packed Oak Street to life as the parade began. Representatives from businesses, churches, and other groups marched in the parade, throwing candy, carrying colorful signs, dancing and singing. The sidewalks were packed with patrons cheering on the parade; some even ended up joining at the end.
While the parade route ended at the fountain by the Big Horse Brew Pub, the Pride festivities did not end there.
Stephanie Naas, a nurse practitioner from Stevenson who provides medical care for LGBTQ Youth in the Gorge, gave a speech from the steps of the pub reminding the crowd of the love that is represented by their presence and how everyone must keep fighting for the human rights of LGBTQ people in rural areas like the gorge.
Naas and other volunteers and parade organizers then reminded the crowd that Monday, June 12, would be the one-year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting in which 49 people were killed. They held a moment of silence and read out the names of the victims; the effect was palpable in the crowd.
This anniversary was one of many events that spurred the president of the Columbia Gorge Pride Alliance, Amy Martin, of White Salmon, to kick off the Gorge’s first Pride parade.
“My motivation for starting the organization (CGPA) and the parade was realizing this was long overdue in our community and I could not be complacent anymore,” Martin said. “While many people have spoken of the need of Pride, education, and resources without the commitment of the board it would still be that, talk.”
Martin said the board consists of herself, Megan Winn (VP), Jessica Garcia (secretary), Stephanie Naas (head of the medical health and wellness committee), Ethan Masters (head of the events/planning committee), Arrow Armstrong (head of the youth committee), and Susan Wertheim (head of community outreach committee).
“Together as a team we have put in countless hours to see this become a success.” Martin said “Our future goals are bigger Pride celebrations every year and opening a LGBTQ+ community center in the Gorge.”
Martin, a transplant from Virginia Beach, Va., had been witness to some of the atrocities LGBTQ people face in rural areas when her younger brother came out as gay in Southern Baptist Virginia and was being bullied and dealing with issues of acceptance by his own family.
The personal connection to the LGBTQ community, the anniversary of one of the most brutal shootings to ever happen in this country and the election, of President Donald Trump were all catalysts to, at the very least, get a Pride parade in the Gorge off the ground. In addition to running the CGPA Martin, is also running for a position on the White Salmon City Council.
For more information on the CGPA check them out on Facebook at Facebook.com/columbiagorgepride.