June is Pride Month — a time for members of the LGBTQ+ community to celebrate love and identity and commemorate the 1969 Stonewall uprising, which helped catalyzed the gay liberation movement.
One of the cornerstones of Pride Month today is visibility. In a small town like Soldotna, that can mean a lot.
“Even just for kids to know they’re not alone,” said Joe Spady, who was born and raised on the Kenai Peninsula.
“Kids in a home that’s not safe for them to come out, at least they can look out and see that there is a community, both locally and globally, that will love and support them,” he said. “Because that’s exactly what I needed as a kid and I didn’t have.”
There are several Pride Month events planned on the peninsula this month and next. Audre Hickey is one of the organizers of Soldotna Pride in the Park, now in its fourth year.
“Each year our participation really increases,” she said.
She said this year’s event is scaled down because of COVID-19: There won’t be a drag show or a fair with booths.
Instead, people will walk together from the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to Soldotna Creek Park this Saturday at noon.
“It is about showing our community members that we do have LBGTQ members here in our community, and that we are proud of them,” Hickey said. “And then it’s also a good way to show people that maybe don’t feel safe or comfortable coming out yet that they will be accepted when they do, and that our community will wrap their arms around them.”
Spady is also hosting a pride-themed supper club and picnic on that day.
Homer is having its own pride celebration on June 19. It’s overlapping with Juneteeth, the holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S.
Organizers said it’s important to connect conversations about race and sexuality. The Stonewall uprising in Manhattan was in large part an effort of Black trans women, a demographic that sees a high rate of fatal violence in the U.S. today.
Seward, too, is hosting a slew of events the last weekend of July. The Seward Pride Alliance moved its celebration after Pride Month in hopes it would be more COVID safe at a later date.
“We have all the different spectrums of the letters and the rainbow represented here and that’s really what we wanted to celebrate,” said Tony Baclaan, vice president of the Seward Pride Alliance.
This is Seward’s third year doing pride. They’re hosting several events, like a barbecue and a lip sync battle.
And in true Seward fashion, there will be a wildlife cruise. Baclaan said the 2019 pride cruise was really fun.
“We would listen to Beyonce, and we had a DJ on there, and it would be Beyonce, Beyonce, and then they would turn the music down and then they would see a whale or an otter,” he said, laughing.
He said visitors to Seward pride in 2019 told him they liked celebrating in a small town. A lot of pride events take place in large cities.
“Rather than a huge, large celebration, it was a really nice, quaint party,” he said.
All organizers agree — pride is about visibility. Spady said the queer community on the central Kenai Peninsula is much more visible today than when he was a kid.
“Everyone knows someone,” Spady said. “There are gay families raising their kids here. This is the community they’ve chosen to live in. It’s really exciting just to see how far our little community has come.”
Which is not to say it’s not without its obstacles. At the last in-person Pride in the Park, in 2019, marchers were met with a group of protesters.
Later that year, a gay Sterling woman reported being attacked at her home. That catalyzed a community reckoning about how the central peninsula can support members of its queer community.
“That was perpetrated by one hateful person,” Hickey said. “And the support that our community showed after that happened at our town hall was moving. There were hundreds of people there.”
Spady said he sees backlash coming from the Christian community. That’s one thing he’d like to see change.
“I always challenge all of my friends who claim the title of Christian to actively stand up against people who are un-Christ-like,” he said. “And I think it will really take people from within the church to make this change.”
Several pride events in Anchorage were canceled this year, after organizers chose a theme people deemed offensive. But there will still be a Pride Block Party and several other events in Anchorage later this month.
You can find information on a slate of statewide events at https://anchoragepride.org/events.