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The first article ever published with my name attached to it was back in 2009, in the University of Alaska Anchorage school newspaper, the Northern Light. It hangs, framed, on my wall, with the title: “Despite gray skies, sunshine comes out for those in need.”
The clumsy, 300-word piece described the 2009 Anchorage Pride Parade:
[A]s the procession began marching June 20, appropriately against the normal flow of traffic on 6th Avenue, for a brief moment Anchorage’s city streets were awash in vibrant colors; reinforced by applauding smiles and cheers from the sidelines.
Five days before this snapshot in Alaskan history, another was being taken. In the Assembly Chambers of the Loussac Library, a sea of red-shirted opponents of Ordinance 64, which would grant equal rights protection, under the law, to the LGBT community, lined up for a third round of testimonies. The overflow largely attributed to the busloads of Mat-Su Valley residents and a concentrated effort from Rev. Jerry Prevo, head of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, to strike down the proposal.
That year, the annual celebration of the LGBT community came in the thick of what is often referred to as “the Summer of Hate,” when a anti-discrimination ordinance passed the Assembly, only to be vetoed by Mayor Dan Sullivan. Alaska Family Council’s Jim Minnery had announced intentions of protesting the actual march — and some of the aforementioned “red-shirts” did show up, casting a nervous tension over the event, prompting many to stay home.
Elected officials mostly stayed away too, with the exceptions of Assemblywoman Elvi Gray-Jackson and now-State Representative Harriet Drummond. I remember one Democratic campaign manager telling me, in 2010, that his candidate supported equality but “can’t be seen in photos with those people.”
A lot has changed in five years.
Hundreds of Alaskans gathered in the street on Saturday morning outside Snow City Cafe, in downtown Anchorage. Emcee Daphne DoAll LaChores made sure everyone was in place behind the Identity, Inc. banner at the front of the procession that would go the distance, from 3rd Avenue to the Park Strip. Festival attendee and downtown community leader Christopher Constant took the mic, announcing the presence of the plaintiff families in the case Hamby v. Alaska, who lined up behind the banner.
In a poetic nod to a much larger narrative, they led the way.
The red shirts were there. But they had new supportive owners, bearing corporate logos like Fred Meyer and Office Depot. And all of a sudden there were green shirts too, adorned by BP employees. Text on the back read “Be Yourself.”
For the second year, the event abandoned the parade concept, and instead adopted an “equality march” theme. No standing on the sidelines. March together; side by side, together.
This year, elected officials joined in. Senate candidate Mark Fish and gubernatorial hopeful Care Clifton, running on the Libertarian ticket, walked in the party contingent. Democrats Laurie Hummel, Berta Gardener, and Forrest Dunbar helped carry the Identity, Inc. banner while Lieutenant Governor candidate Hollis French offered hi-fives as marchers passed by, before joining in himself. Republican House candidate Kevin Kastner manned the “Vote No on 1” booth on the park strip.
And as she does every year, Assemblywoman Elvi Gray-Jackson marched front and center.
The faith-based community also touted an impressive presence. East Anchorage Methodist Church, Alaska Center for Spiritual Living, St. John United Methodist Church, Lutheran Church of Hope all sponsored vendor booths and marched in the parade, alongside Catholics for Equality and Justice.
On the fairgrounds, a record 86 vendor booths (Alaska Commons proudly one of them) circled the main stage, where barber shop vocal groups, teen dance troupes, bands, and drag performances performed before a cheering crowd that stayed all day long.
There was even — finally! — a beer garden, courtesy of Humpy’s and Sub Zero.
Five years isn’t a lot of time. For longtime Anchorage residents who have been fighting for basic equal recognition under the law since the seventies and earlier, it no doubt feels a lot shorter. The article I wrote in 2009 sat printed on a page next to another Northern Light editorial, entitled “Non-discrimination policy should be updated.”
As the world watches state-level prohibitions on marriage equality fail, one by one, with a case pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska, a looming scenario confronts Anchorage. The municipality could very well end up seeing the legalization of same-sex marriages before workplace and housing protections are codified. Imagine someone marrying his or her spouse — recognized by the state and federal governments — and getting fired or evicted for it the next day, through perfectly legal channels. That is the reality we find ourselves staring down, on a collision course.
This year, PrideFest embraced the slogan “The State of Our Pride.” That state is as inspiring as the community propelling it forward. But there are still some doors jammed shut that need a swift kick of justice. And it’s going to take all of us working together to make sure that happens.
How about a goal: This year.