Happy Pride, Portland! This week, the Mercury is running a series of opinion pieces and personal essays from LGBTQ+ Portlanders on the theme Pride 2021: Queer Beginnings. As we emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we're all re-evaluating and re-imagining things, and that includes queer life and how we observe Pride. Here's the first entry.
There are plenty of reasons for queer people to rightfully take issue with Pride—such as the season’s commodification by corporate sponsors and politicians, who seize the opportunity to rainbow-wash the negative impacts their policies make on the LGBTQ+ community the other 11 months of the year. But it’s still one of my favorite times of year. It has the joy of your best birthdays, a sacred mix of camp and ceremony usually reserved for Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and the nice weather of Memorial Day Weekend. We’ve won significant civil rights victories in the past decade, but our community’s enemies are putting in hours somewhere between the devil and Kris Jenner to hurt us.
During Pride, we as queer people remember what we’ve individually and collectively overcome, and who our community has stolen from us, through both violence and neglect. We celebrate through daytime parades and nighttime parties, by sharing our stories and art, and by doing, saying, and wearing what we want for much more than a month.
Pride Northwest runs Portland’s city-sanctioned Pride festival, and they’re testing new ground during what could be the waning days of the state’s coronavirus-related social restrictions. A freshly recorded parade isn’t the same as seeing a live one, but watching it could feel more familiar than historic footage, like last year’s screening from 1999. The Lot at Zidell Yards offers some in-person fun, but are its uneven grounds the best spot for people with crutches, wheelchairs, or heeled shoes as high as their hair?
Barring another unforeseen catastrophe, we’ll be able to fully celebrate Pride in-person next year. In anticipation of next years’ festivities, I’ve got some ideas for how we can make Pride 2022 fun, safe, and educational. They might take a little work to implement, but when has great change ever come overnight?
1. Permanently ban cops from Pride
Cops are the villains of the Stonewall Riots—even if you want to argue that the fight for our rights began years earlier, you’d be sweeping aside the histories of how cops harassed and demeaned queer people across the country, from then to now. And if you’re a queer cop who thinks you’re getting “shoved back in the closet” when you could’ve picked truly any other outfit while you were in there: Pride lets us be messy, but come on. From now on, this house isn’t “protected” by cops—it’s protected by sword lesbians, leather daddies, and Barbz of all creeds, each entitled to massive government funds.
(Editor's note: Pride Northwest already made this decision, announcing in a press release last year that "uniformed and armed law enforcement officers will be disallowed from marching in the Portland Pride Parade and from exhibiting at the Portland Pride Waterfront Festival" moving forward. We support this, and encourage other Pride festivals to make the same move.)
2. Let Pride leave downtown
No Caitlyn, downtown Portland isn’t “too scary” to host Pride, but moving next year’s parade and/or parties out of downtown would make them central for more of the city, and could be just the thing to get crews and funding to some of our city’s most neglected roads. Suburbanites get that sweet strip mall parking they crave, the sex-positive crew gets closer to its favorite clubs and shops, and everyone meets up later at Mall 205’s Olive Garden, neutral ground for the kink-shamers, and kinky and shameless, alike. You can still drink downtown, or at East Portland’s handful of queer bars, but you probably won’t be within Old Town’s cop-blocked “Entertainment District,” if and when that returns.
3. Pride Sponsors Do Better Challenge
Just as Jesus flipped tables like Theresa Giudice, our patronage systems are experiencing their reckonings. Jeffrey Epstein bought respectability through scientific philanthropy, while the arts are dealing with their local Trump and Sackler families. Pride isn’t exempt from this reflection. Before we see the 30-day rainbow filter on everything from cheddar biscuits to cruise missiles, we should ask how queer people benefit. What working conditions do LGBTQ+ staff want to change, and when will we see those changes? How are banks actively helping queer people, especially when the industry has been notoriously slow to respond to past civil rights advances? If you’re telling stories from LGBTQ+ people, why are we still on the cutting room floor when the movies are marketed overseas? Why do we still not get the budgets and support our writers, actors, and crew need? We need more than flag waves and features in seasonal ad campaigns. We know better now, and we can do better now.
4. Have and show more respect for each other’s bodies
This year especially, we owe a great debt to HIV researchers and patients. COVID-19 vaccines rely heavily on knowledge advanced by HIV research, the funding for which is still too often restrictively released. The work people put in daily to end stigmas against HIV patients improves quality of care, and should be the model we use for ending the stigma of other diseases, including coronavirus, lung cancer, and addiction.
All of this means one thing: The more we love our bodies as they are, stop judging people for their bodies, and get compassionate care when something goes wrong, the happier and healthier, and therefore hotter, we’ll collectively get.
5. Bring Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk to Portland
Right now we have three local politicians who look alike, two of whom are gay, and at least one of whom used to be good at Twitter. I know an Emmy-winning creepy-campy anthology when I see one, and there’s no shortage of plot points. Just think of the viewing parties! Where in Portland will Sarah Paulson be spotted? This show would launch a stunning new era of Portland cinema, and maybe you heard it here first!
6. Give queer and trans essential workers $100,000 each
This one’s relevant to Point No. 3, unless your job isn’t even doing the rainbow filter. One hundred thousand dollars is the cash prize for America’s reigning drag superstar, and it seems fitting that our essential workers should get the same. It’s not that queer essential workers are “better than” our counterparts, it’s just that it’s Pride, and the only other thing I can think of is giving us each one (1) free crime of our choice.
7. Parade floats for the new queer icons
It’s time we start celebrating ourselves for how we’ve held our communities together this year, without having to promote the brand on our paychecks. How about a platoon of Fast-Walking Cold Brew Queers, a float dedicated to Portland’s non-binary pop stars, holographic tech for our virtual baddies, or a battle dome for locally famous gays from social media?
Also, shout-out to queer parents. Your kids can ride on the Gay Aunts/Uncles float until it’s time to hand them back, as is our proud tradition.
8. Give Patti Harrison headliner money
The Together Together and Shrill actress and comedian sacrificed her Twitter account in the name of comedy. The least we can do to repay her heroism is give her, and a cast of trans talent, enough money and center stage booking to let them do whatever they want. Given Harrison’s iconic Ziwe appearances and her legendary Pride history lesson, we already know we’d be ready and waiting in the front row.
9. Free medical care and housing on demand, without apology
A designated shelter-in-place camp for queer houseless people is a thoughtful but ineffective emergency measure, especially considering how many LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately houseless. Imagine how much more fun Pride would be if everyone—really, actually, everyone—was included and celebrated, and had their needs regularly met. SMYRC, OutsideIn, and New Avenues For Youth do good work, as do our community’s healthcare partners, but what if the money and effort that went toward hurting and displacing houseless people—whether that’s sweeps and their tethered industries, or private security forces in rich districts that harass visibly poor people—went toward meeting their needs? Just a thought, besties.
10. Free slushies?
None of my fragmented Pride memories involve slushies, and I’m almost certain that’s not my fault.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to remove misleading language about Pride Northwest's policy regarding uniformed officers at its festivities. We regret the error.