I was again pleased to see rainbow flags flying in Olympia’s downtown in June during Capital City Pride, celebrating the diverse community we are all a part of. As former chair of Capital City Pride, it was one of our team’s greatest accomplishments to attain approval several years ago to add the flags as part of our weeklong celebration of community. It was not easy.
I did not attend the parade this year for the first time in many years, and many other regular attendees, past supporters and sponsors did not attend either. There was a significant drop in attendance and enthusiasm.
A decision by the leaders of Capital City Pride to explicitly bar the Olympia Police Department from participating in the Pride Parade shows a deep level of exclusivity and intolerance by the very organization that should stand against those traits. This exclusion led groups representing the city and others — rightly so — to not participate in the parade.
There are LGBTQ folks that serve as law enforcement officers in our community and they and their colleagues are there in a moment’s notice, day or night, when called upon during dangerous and difficult times. And they were still there along the parade route keeping the route safe as they have done since day one. Olympia’s police department has made tremendous efforts for a community this size in focusing on LGBTQ safety issues. To pigeonhole officers as the sole problem facing our community is juvenile and not intellectually honest.
But this isn’t solely about law enforcement being specifically barred from participating in the parade.
It’s also about an organization that has lost focus on our local community. Unfortunately, it’s not the only local organization that once had a coherent focus on the community that is now marred by intolerance and an inability or unwillingness to listen to other perspectives and views. As for Capital City Pride, this has brought strife, conflict and will continue a weakening of the organization, once looked to as a respected community group. It also led to less participation in what is normally a festive, family-friendly and large parade, both along the parade route and in the parade itself.
There are difficult conversations occurring and more that need to occur in our local community, and across our state and nation. Productive conversations and forming partnerships is key. Capital City Pride has demonstrably lost focus and now does not represent the broad LGBTQ community in Thurston County. Even the 2017 theme — “resist” — brings with it an incoherence and anger that is not productive and doesn’t achieve the goals of a more understanding, tolerant and accepting Thurston County. Rather, it is divisive.
It is easy to play into the politics of fear and divisiveness, and to divide communities and groups that must stick together to sustain progress on the values that we share. The achievements that we’ve made as a community and state around equality and fairness aren’t permanent. They must be cared for, continually perfected, and the work by many to achieve them must never be forgotten. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening.
I look forward to new leadership and a redefining of the organization after Pride 2017. Capital City Pride has never been about ideological extremism, nor should it be. There are fewer and fewer community groups that can shed the politics and focus on the positives in our community while working genuinely and more collaboratively on the negatives.
Tony Sermonti is a former chair of Capital City Pride.