Two words say it all: change happened.
Joy was in the air Saturday afternoon as hundreds of members and supporters of Vancouver’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, as well as a few curious onlookers, gathered at Esther Short Park, some proudly wearing those two words on their shirts.
It’s been a year of whirlwind changes for the LGBT community. They included Washington’s passage of a voter-approved referendum legalizing marriages for the state’s 17,000 same-sex couples and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling mandating federal equality for legally married gay couples.
At the 19th annual Saturday at the Park event, it was celebration time.
“Everybody is happy now,” said
Corey Eubanks, a Vancouver-based real estate agent. “Even now, around town, I see more same-sex couples walking around holding hands. They’re more comfortable.”
Dressed in rainbow tutus and matching leis, a group of 16 participants of the Lyle’s Myles Run/Walk gathered near the park’s gazebo, having just finished the 5K fun run. The event raises money for local and international HIV and AIDS programs. There are an estimated 400 people with HIV or AIDS in Clark County, said Lyle Smith, the 79-year-old organizer of the fundraiser, which partners with Saturday in the Park.
At the gazebo, the fleet-footed rainbow warriors said they’d come out in force to show their support for gay rights, one brightly colored piece of clothing at a time.
“The more of a statement you can make about what you feel comfortable with, the safer the people around you feel,” said Amy Campbell, among the group of 16. “It’s about creating an environment where everyone feels accepted.”
Josh McCool, another member of the group, chimed in. He said it’s important to continue fostering acceptance because equality is a “never-ending battle.”
Despite the year of landmark changes, attendees at Saturday’s events said the specter of intolerance continues to cast a dark cloud.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been eight hate crimes reported in Clark County, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Though the majority of hate crimes are racially motivated, two stemmed from the victim’s sexual orientation.
More crimes likely go unreported, said Commander Steve Shea of the sheriff’s office’s west precinct. But law enforcement officials are keeping up the fight.
“Aggressive enforcement of hate crimes shows the bad guys we will not tolerate hate crimes in this community,” Shea said.
Attendees of Saturday in the Park and Lyle’s Myles Run/Walk say they’re not going to rest on their laurels. They plan to remain visible and vocal in the community, along with an incoming crop of new neighbors.
Clark County’s gay and lesbian population doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, meaning more resources for gays and lesbians will be needed in the future.
“One of the problems is the gay community is growing so much,” said Eubanks, the real estate agent. “But there’s no centralized gathering space. There’s no community center, no publication specifically for our area.”
There are, after all, always new changes to happen.