How rural communities in Oregon are celebrating Pride Month

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
June 25, 2023 1 p.m.
File photo from June 2, 2022. As one of the largest gay rights organizations in America issues a state of emergency, LGBTQ+ communities across the country celebrate Pride Month. For some of Oregon's rural communities, Pride events provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ Oregonians and showcase the diversity present across the state.

File photo from June 2, 2022. As one of the largest gay rights organizations in America issues a state of emergency, LGBTQ+ communities across the country celebrate Pride Month. For some of Oregon's rural communities, Pride events provide safe spaces for LGBTQ+ Oregonians and showcase the diversity present across the state.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Across the country, LGBTQ+ communities are celebrating Pride Month. In Oregon, celebrations range from marches and festivals to clothing swaps and boat rides.

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But the festivities come amid a wave of new laws restricting the rights of LGBTQ+ communities passed by state legislatures in Republican-led states. The restrictions have prompted the Human Rights Campaign to issue a nationwide state of emergency.

Nik Portela is the program manager for the Columbia Gorge Pride Alliance based in The Dalles. He said that the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate is what makes celebrating Pride Month this year especially important for smaller communities in Oregon.

“We’re just so eager to show up and say that hate is not welcome in our community,” Portela said. “Despite what people might think about rural Oregon and rural places in general, we are here.”

In Brookings, Southern Oregon Coast Pride held an event that attracted more than 300 attendees. The group’s next Pride celebration will be at Coos Bay, where a Pride flag erected by the City Council last year led to a moratorium on any display of non-governmental flags on city-owned flag poles.

Laura Erceg, director of Southern Oregon Coast Pride, was heartened by the raising of the Pride flag which she felt expressed a clear show of support from the broader community. So the decision to remove the flag was a reminder of how some residents could undermine that support.

“It was really painful as a result when this symbol was … taken away,” she said.

While Pride events can range from drag shows and arts and crafts, one resource SOCP and other groups are offering is de-escalation training.

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“The unfortunate reality is that safety is a conversation that all of us have at all of our events,” she said.

Erceg is aware there may be people who want to protest, detract and scare others from attending Pride events, but believes that training like this can help educate the community and allow attendees to continue celebrating.

Pictured are several tables filled with seated individuals. Mini Pride flags banner across the room. A rainbow balloon arch can be seen near the entrance. Southern Oregon Coast Pride were the organizers for a drag bingo event last year at Front Street Provisioners in Coos Bay.

Coos Bay residents gathered for a drag bingo event at Front Street Provisioners held by Southern Oregon Coast Pride.

Courtesy of Laura Erceg

Similarly for the Umpqua Valley Rainbow Collective in Douglas County, celebrants at their events often encounter protests organized by local anti-LGBTQ+ groups. Nonetheless, they’ve expanded their efforts to grow their community and stand up to hateful rhetoric.

The group was formed last year to create a safe space for community members. It started out with game nights and potluck dinners and is now hosting its first Pride festival this year.

Juliet Rutter is the Board Secretary of UVRC. They said this year’s festival will be held at the Douglas County Fairgrounds and will be a safe space for the queer community. Attendees of the event will not have to worry about protestors once they enter since protesters will only be allowed outside the fairgrounds.

“It’s a much more exclusive thing that people can feel safer at and less like they need to defend their existence,” they said.

Rutter also pointed to the resilience of their community in standing up to hate.

“If you look at LGBTQIA+ history, that is really where we shine. We come up against opposition. We shine when we need to shine.”

Nik Portela, Laura Erceg and Juliet Rutter joined OPB’s Think Out Loud to discuss Pride Month in rural Oregon with guest host Jenn Chavez. You can listen to the full conversation here:

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