The mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, has given new meaning to this weekend’s Capital City Pride festival in downtown Olympia.
Organizers have asked the entire community to attend the festival and honor the 50 victims who died Sunday after a gunman opened fire inside the Pulse nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
In a statement, Capital City Pride organizers also asked the public to honor all victims of violence in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community. A few hundred local residents attended a vigil Sunday evening at Sylvester Park in Olympia.
“If we’re to be honest with ourselves, we know that the atrocity that occurred in Orlando could have happened in Olympia, Austin or San Francisco. It could happen anywhere,” says the statement from Pride organizers, which called the shooting an “act of hate.”
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“We value debate, different perspectives and different experiences. But let this Pride festival be focused on love, respect and on all of the things we share as members of our global society. The celebration of community will go on.”
However, not everyone is welcome at the Capital City Pride festival. The Libertarian Party of Washington was denied booth space in 2015 because of its stance on the open carry of firearms and the festival’s ban on openly carrying firearms. The party has been denied booth space again at this year’s festival.
James Holcomb, a party organizer from Thurston County, said the state Libertarian Party is “unwavering in its support for the Second Amendment” and will boycott the Capital City Pride festival until everyone’s constitutional rights are supported.
In an email to The Olympian, Holcomb said the attack in Orlando illustrates the need for the LGBTQ community to embrace its right to carry a firearm and “be proactive in protecting our family and ourselves.”
“As a gay man, I have just recently got my first shooting experience under my belt,” he wrote, also advocating for non-lethal forms of self-defense. “I encourage others in my community to get out there and learn how to use firearms safely and effectively. … We should not have to wait for the police to arrive to defend us.”
Anna Schlecht, co-chairwoman of the Pride festival, said openly carried firearms are not welcome at any festival booths or the parade because doing so would be inconsistent with the festival’s values.
Festival organizers are somewhat concerned about security after Orlando, she said, but are committed to bringing people together in the wake of a tragedy that resonates beyond the gay community.
“This underscores that we are still fighting forces of hate,” Schlecht told The Olympian. “It’s very hard to understand why some lawmakers are so worried about who’s in a bathroom stall next to them while we in the LGBT community worry about people wanting to kill us.”
CAPITAL CITY PRIDE
The 26th annual Capital City Pride festival begins at 8 p.m. Friday with an all-ages street party in front of Oly Underground, 109 Legion Way, and will include music, performances and speeches.
The festival continues 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Heritage Park, Water Street and Seventh Avenue, with music, food booths, a bouncy house and more.
The annual parade will run noon-1 p.m. Sunday, starting from the State Capitol Building and running north on Capitol Way to Heritage Park.
All events are free and open to the public. Learn more at capitalcitypride.net.