Olympia’s Pride festival will be held this Saturday and Sunday at Heritage Park, and the 26th annual Pride parade will start at noon on Sunday.
This year, the festival is both a celebration of progress and an act of courage.
The massacre in Orlando and the threatened but thwarted attack on the Pride parade in Los Angeles make this year’s annual celebrations an exercise in overcoming fear.
Last year’s festival joyously celebrated the advent of legal marriage; this year’s events try to make sense of a world in which gay and lesbian people can marry, but can’t count on being safe when they go out dancing.
It’s hard to comprehend this combination of progress and backlash, but at a vigil in Sylvester Park last Sunday evening, a long line of speakers tried to do so.
Without exception, speakers made it clear that the crime in Orlando was not about religion, but hate and fear. The inspiration for Omar Mateen’s crime was that he was offended by the sight of a gay couple kissing. How such a simple act of love inspired an act of murderous hate remains the unsolved mystery of this crime.
At Sunday night’s vigil, there was loud applause from the 300 or so participants for every speaker who denounced Islamophobia. And among the religious leaders who addressed the crowd and shared their sorrow was Mustafa Mohamedali, representing the Islamic Center of Olympia.
What the vigil made clear is that while the equal rights movement has made big strides, there is still a very steep road ahead. Too many families still ostracize their children who are gay, lesbian, or gender non-conforming, making these kids 40 percent of our homeless youth. Transgender people still face uncertainty and humiliation over which bathrooms they use, and are often targets of assaults and murder. In many states, there are campaigns to roll back the limited equal rights protections that have been won, and to impose restrictions on local governments that seek to expand them. People in the LGBT community continue to face frequent slurs and threats from strangers on the street. And now an extra, toxic layer of fear has been added to their burdens.
Yet the organizers of Pride hold fast to a vision of acceptance and equality, and are as committed as ever to both celebrating the progress they have won and energizing support for the arduous struggle ahead. They intend to make this year’s festival, like the past 25 before it, a time to invite the community to celebrate with them.
This year, in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy, it’s especially important that our LGBT neighbors, friends and co-workers know we share their heartache, that we support their struggle, and that we will be there this weekend to cheer their parade.