photo (c) David Welton
Whidbey Island is just far enough away from Seattle that we Whidbey-ites have developed our own special flavor of Pride and on August 2nd, 2015 the city will host the 2nd Annual Queer Pride Parade (QPP) in downtown Langley. South Whidbey is home to a large gay community, including Col. Grethe Cammermeyer who was instrumental in the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Most LGBTQ Islanders are in the 40 – 75-year-old demographic, skewing female. But until last August, Whidbey Island did not have its own Pride Parade.
As a young-ish organizer living amongst mostly older gay folks, I’ve been delighted by the unforeseen challenges of organizing a new LGBTQ event for the Whidbey community. After deep consideration, we finally chose the word “queer” to describe our first Whidbey Pride Parade.
Of course, ‘queer’ is a word that makes most Baby Boomers, gay and straight, recoil, but for many Gen-Yers and Gen-Xers, myself and my co-organizer included, “queer” has an entirely different connotation.We use ‘queer’ as an umbrella term for the LGBTQIA community, and we also use it to denote a worldview that challenges binary iterations of sameness or societal expectations.
We announced the parade, and I was immediately surrounded by older lesbians and gay men who wanted me to know two things — how uncomfortable the word “queer” made them feel, and how thrilled they were about having a Pride event in their own backyard.
In an interview with Whidbey Life Magazine last August, co-founder Kathryn Morgen shared her reasons for organizing the event.“We are experiencing a massive shift in consciousness about the way we express our identities, and the Queer Pride Parade is here to honor that.”
Last week, we hosted a fundraiser at Greenbank Farm to raise funds for a queer conference to precede this year’s parade, with an intention to “keep the price point low, prioritize diversity, and emphasize queerness in the arts, activism and education.”
Greenbank, a venue known for delicious pies and all-ages events, opened its barn to families and performers from around Puget Sound. Upstairs, guests chose between a “make your own freak flag” table and a “zine-making” table, and downstairs, Whidbey PFLAG offered advocacy materials and the band PETE provided a soundtrack for the barn dance.
While the city of Langley is officially supportive — the Parade brings hundreds of people into town that contribute to the local economy — one community member has labeled it a “hate event” and threatened to sue over our use of the word “queer.”
Letters to the Editor were exchanged, and although no additional opposition has been mounted, it provided an opportunity to open a dialogue with the Whidbey community about semantics and the meaning and power of claiming the word “queer.”
I believe that Whidbey Island is the ideal place to begin this cultural conversation.
When personal experiences and antiquated generational norms inhibit the positive evolution of marginalized communities, something needs to change.The majority of Islanders have responded with curiosity, commitment and creativity toward bettering our community for queer folks of all stripes.
Queering the world we live in can only lead to a more beautiful, truthful, and accepting world.
And that is something we can all be proud of.
The Queer Pride Parade on Whidbey invites like-minded Seattle organizations to walk in the Parade. Sunday, August 2, 2015, in Langley, WA, and is preceded by the Whidbey Island Queer Conference (WIQC) on Saturday, August 1st. Registration is free and available online.