Attendees at the Capital City Pride festival on Saturday mourned the loss of 49 people gunned down in the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, last weekend.
“Pride feels very different in the wake of Orlando,” said Anna Schlecht, co-chairwoman of the Pride festival. “It’s hard to handle all the craziness of Pride when all I’ve wanted to do is just sob. But there’s no time for that.”
There was an increased police presence at this year’s Pride festivities in light of the events in Orlando.
“We want people to feel safe,” said Curt Hart, the communications director at the state Department of Enterprise Services, which manages Sylvester Park, site of the festivities. “It’s important to have a place where people can exercise their right to free speech. This space belongs to the people.”
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A Second Amendment rights group was present at the event, and told people who talked to them that they should use their constitutional right to protect themselves.
“We’re out here spreading self-defense,” said Devyn Hembry, a Pink Pistols Olympia chapter administrator who wore his gun on his hip. “This event is open to the public. We have the freedom to be here.”
The rainbow pride flag was flown at half-staff at city halls and the Capitol Campus in support of Orlando earlier this week.
“Orlando has made this year different,” said Sarah Vanucci, a volunteer who has attended the event for more than 20 years. “It’s been a mixture of heartbreak and fear. Also strength and courage to keep facing hate. It’s hard, but Pride needs to go on.”
Many families also attended Saturday’s event.
“I’m glad everyone’s standing together,” said Lynette Bowen, who brought her 3-year-old daughter. “I want her to grow up knowing that love is love.”
On Saturday, that warm, supportive atmosphere was on display.
“It makes me so happy that we have this beautiful festival full of amazing people,” Schlecht said. “It feels good to bring folks together. We have a strong community.”
The annual Pride 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