Gail Wolz, of La Center, said she gave out a hundred “mom hugs” at last year’s Saturday in the Park Pride event.
Standing next to the PFLAG of SW Washington booth at this year’s Saturday in the Park Pride event and wearing a “Free Mom Hugs” T-shirt, Wolz said she has a transgender son living in Bellingham that she can’t hug as often as she’d like. So she came to Vancouver’s annual LGBTQ pride event held in Esther Short Park to embrace her son by proxy, offering hugs to individuals who may not be accepted by their families because of their sexual or gender identity.
“The least I can do is give a hug and a blessing and let them know they are loved,” said Wolz. By about 1 p.m. she said she’d given out about 50 hugs with plenty of time left to offer more.
On Saturday, Esther Short Park filled up with booths from churches, nonprofits, grocery stores, health care providers, political candidates, banks and other businesses. Children, senior citizens, families, couples and individuals walked through the park. They ate pizza, stopped at booths and checked out bands, dancers, drag queens and other acts that took the park’s stage. Rainbow flags were everywhere.
Most pride celebrations are held in June to memorialize the Stonewall Riots that broke out in New York City in 1969 after police raided the now-famous gay bar. But Vancouver holds its pride event the second Saturday in July to avoid competing with other events.
“This is more of a family event,” said Micheil MacCutcheon, chair of Vancouver USA Pride. Now in its 26th year, MacCutcheon said that Vancouver’s Saturday in the Park Pride includes people from all walks of life and gives people a better opportunity to get to know each other than similar events.
He said that the event has also grown. Last year, 54 businesses, nonprofits or other organizations set up booths at the event, which he said grew to 106 this year. MacCutcheon attributed the increase to the negative tone present at the national level with more local groups and individuals wanting to show they’re still accepting and affirming.
“This is a wonderful expression of love,” said MacCutcheon. He said the event includes young people coming out for the first time to friends, as well as families with kids in tow. “Wow. It’s just people enjoying life,” he said.
While Vancouver’s event may be smaller than other cities, MacCutcheon said it’s still a party.
Wearing a visor, sunglasses and a hot pink shirt, Skyler Jones said he came down from Seattle to visit a friend and check out an afternoon dance party at Heathen Brewing Feral Public House.
“This is more intimate for a smaller city,” he said.
This is the third pride event Lisa Capuano, of Camas, said she attended this year after traveling to Portland and Victoria, British Columbia, for their festivals. She said she began volunteering with Free Mom Hugs and her dog Murphy had a rainbow flag tucked into his leash.
“I just discovered who I am this year,” she said, realizing she is bisexual. She added, “This is a whole new world.”