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Yakima Pride 2019: Building a foundation

Saturday isn’t the first Yakima-area LGBTQ Pride Festival; that dates to at least the mid-1990s, when Ken Lewis and his group, First Fridays, first hosted Pride in the Park at Fulbright Park in Union Gap, an annual event through 2014.

It’s not even the first big, highly visible, public downtown Yakima Pride Festival; that was in 2015, and it has recurred each year since.

No the notable thing about Pride Festival this year isn’t that it’s brand new, it’s that it’s the first one coordinated and hosted primarily by the new Yakima Pride organization. That means more planning has gone into it, not to mention better organization and more volunteer outreach.

“This year is the first in which we’ve really built a foundation,” Yakima Pride board Vice President Joshua Hastings said. “We have so many new directors and new volunteers, it’s actually a little overwhelming.”

Yakima Pride the organization, which soon expects to get official nonprofit status, has built on the momentum of previous pride festivals, including last year’s, which was spearheaded by the organization’s president, Cristina Ortega. It successfully asked the Yakima City Council to officially designate June as LGBTQ Pride Month, and it has programmed a pride festival for Saturday that is far beyond its predecessors.

“We have a huge lineup of entertainment, from drag productions to The Chase Craig Band to two comedians from Jokers of Yakima,” Hastings said. “And we have Sierra Hutton, an actress from ‘The Laramie Project’ at YVC, who volunteered to perform on our stage.”

That’s not all. There’s also a parade featuring an actual LGBTQ pride float, which Hastings believes is a first. Previous pride celebrations have included “parades” with no floats, making them essentially marches. This one will include a float decorated with the Yakima Pride rainbow-apple logo, from which drag performance royalty and royalty from the organization’s recent Rainbow Prom will wave to onlookers while Hutton sings to them.

The parade kicks things off at 10 a.m., leaving the Pride Festival site at Performance Park (the corner of North Second Street and Staff Sgt. Pendleton Way) and heading north to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard where it will turn east, following Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the Yakima Convention Center on Eighth Street, before heading south to Yakima Avenue, which it will follow back to Second Street and Performance Park.

Getting out like that publicly is one of the things Pride festivals are about. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community in Yakima has become increasingly visible over the past two decades as the LGBTQ-rights movement has progressed nationwide. But this remains a politically and religiously conservative community, and plenty of LGBTQ people remain hesitant to publicly be themselves, Hastings said.

The City Council’s proclamation is a huge step, but the last time a gay-rights measure was in front of Washington voters — the 2012 gay marriage referendum, which passed statewide — Yakima County voted 2-to-1 against it. To think that anti-LGBTQ sentiment has evaporated in the seven years since would be foolish, a point Hastings made during a panel discussion after a recent Yakima Valley College production of “The Laramie Project.”

There has been progress, he said. But he still talks with young people, in Yakima and in the Lower Valley, where he works for the Toppenish School District, who are out and proud among friends but can’t be themselves around their own parents.

“I told people, ‘I feel like we’re still in a bubble in this room,’” he said of the YVC panel. “There is still a lot of non-acceptance happening. ... Those type of things, they hit hard, and they remind me of why we’re here.”

Hastings, 43, who was born in Yakima and raised in Toppenish, left the Yakima Valley when he was 19 because it didn’t feel safe to come out here. And he knows it’s still difficult, especially for young people.

“There’s so much we’re doing right now to try to lay pavement and create some roads for that,” he said, adding that Yakima Pride has already partnered with local schools as well as the youth homeless center Rod’s House and the LGBTQ youth center The Space.

Saturday’s Pride Festival will have a big educational component to it, for that reason. There will be booths to introduce people to the resources they might need to navigate their own path to embracing their identity.

But it will also be a celebration. And after it’s done, there will be an after-party at Game & Grog, a downtown bar that opened last year and quickly became an LGBTQ community favorite for its explicitly stated policies of inclusion. There will be drag performances and LGBTQ-themed trivia and, starting a little later in the evening, a set from DJ Doughboy, who will keep the dancing going “until we’re all tired,” Hastings said.

“It should be a lot of fun.”

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