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News / Clark County News

Esther Short Park bursting with Pride

Return of LGBTQ event in Vancouver celebrates inclusivity and unity

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 9, 2022, 6:34pm
13 Photos
Ezra Sheldon, 7, in yellow, Lovella Conboy, 5, in pink, and Lilian Conboy, 3, in blue, greet "Robbie Rex" the tyrannosaur brought by Realtor Rob Mourton of ReMax.
Ezra Sheldon, 7, in yellow, Lovella Conboy, 5, in pink, and Lilian Conboy, 3, in blue, greet "Robbie Rex" the tyrannosaur brought by Realtor Rob Mourton of ReMax. (James Rexroad for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Although Pride Month officially concluded, Vancouver’s queer spirit was vigorously alive more than a week later.

After being on hold for two years due to the pandemic, Vancouver USA Pride was finally able to make its return — much to the joy and excitement of the local queer community. The group’s vice presidents Jennifer Lanier and her wife, Dustina Haase-Lanier, said they spent months planning its 26th Saturday in the Park.

The event operates as a welcoming embrace for LGBTQ people in the community and helps raise money for local charities and scholarship programs. The extensive preparation paid off, too, as it was Vancouver USA Pride’s biggest celebration to date.

“I am just amazed that we are finally back. It feels like it has been 100 years since we have been out here,” Lanier said with a wide smile.

Vendors and community resource tents lined Esther Short Park, slightly mingling with the farmers market on Eighth Street. A deluge of performers filled the open space for hours with music, laughs and cheers – including the event headliner, Mary Lambert.

The Seattle-based musician sang her original work and covers from behind a keyboard, as well as delivered poetic prose and comedic zings between songs. Couples exchanged kisses and friends hung their arms around one another as Lambert performed her popular “Same Love” ballad, among other songs with sincere themes.

It was impossible to escape messages of encouragement and assurances of belonging at the day-long event.

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle read from a proclamation commemorating Vancouver USA Pride’s continuous role in fostering an inclusive community. The group’s local influence was apparent at the gathering.

“I’m just happy I live in a city where we can celebrate the queer community safely,” said Rusty Tallmadge of Vancouver.

Calls for authenticity were widespread — whether it was in the form of a colorful sticker or sang during a live performance. When a lone protester donning a “Straight Pride” tee waved an anti-LGBTQ sign in the air, she was quickly bested by people dancing to bubbly music and waving their various pride flags.

Drag queens and kings from The Imperial Sovereign Court of the Raintree Empire, a local drag-based nonprofit, rhythmically glided across the park’s stage. Other queens from the region performed, such as Portland’s Bolivia Carmichaels whose auburn wig was nearly as grand as her shimmies to hits from the ’70s and ’80s.

Although the impervious buoyant spirit spread through the park, there were solemn undertones in few addresses.

Mayor Pro Tem Ty Stober called attention to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of legal precedent protecting abortion rights and other human rights protections are at risk. He specifically noted Justice Clarence Thomas’ push for the court to reassess cases regarding contraception and same-sex marriage.

“We are really truly blessed in Washington state … (but) we need to remember and be working for those who are not there,” he continued, “the people in Mississippi, the people in other parts of the country where rights are not being respected.”

Alicia Sojourner, Washington LGBTQ commission chair and Vancouver’s diversity, equity and inclusion director, underscored the critical role allies play in supporting marginalized communities. Sojourner, who uses they/them pronouns, said true allyship is contingent on being engaged and informed in the community’s challenges.

“We need you to step up. We need you to speak out. We need you to vote and get your neighbors to vote,” they continued. “We need you to really, truly amplify the voices of folks who have been in this struggle and are exhausted.”

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Clark County Councilor Temple Lentz, regional labor council president Shannon Meyers and other local leaders made appearances to preach unity and urge participants to vote in upcoming elections.

For more information about Vancouver USA Pride’s educational opportunities and support services for LGBTQ people, visit vanusapride.org.

Columbian staff writer