Anchorage Pride Week has been celebrated in Alaska’s largest city for over 40 years. But the spectacle now boasting over a hundred vendors and sponsors, with downtown streets filled with cheering supporters, should serve as reminders of the past. In the early 70s, the first celebrations in Anchorage began as small gatherings, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, with participants wearing brown paper bags over their heads to protect their anonymity.
Obviously, a lot has changed. Those few brave enough to stand up for their communities in years past paved the way for the huge, loud, colorful, and open celebration which now lasts a full week and is overloaded with dozens of events, all meant to cater the diverse community being celebrated. Events like Drag Queen Bingo, line dancing, lube wrestling, a performance by stand up comedian BenDeLaCreme, and for the first time this year, a discussion entitled “Beyond the Closet,” featuring nine speakers who told their personal stories.
At the parade, signs as recent as last year bearing messages like “I’d rather be getting married” have been replaced with signs declaring: “Equality for All,” as one float proclaimed; “A Home for Everyone,” read another.
Marriage equality is now recognized in Alaska, along with 36 other states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and 24 Native American tribal jurisdictions. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the future of that right to marry later this month, and most legal experts are optimistic that marriage equality will prevail.
Anchorage also recently elected a new mayor, who emerged victorious from a contest that spent a significant time on LGBT issues. Mayor-elect Ethan Berkowitz has pledged to pass legislation updating the municipality’s discrimination policy, to put a definitive note on the days of paper bags and ensure that no citizen of Anchorage can be fired or denied housing because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
On Saturday, Assemblywoman Elvi-Gray Jackson read the Assembly proclamation — passed unanimously with Mayor Dan Sullivan’s support — dedicating the celebration to the crowd gathered on the Park Strip. In a rare move, all Assembly members and the mayor signed on as sponsors, sans one former mayoral candidate, Assemblywoman Amy Demboski (Eagle River).
“The Anchorage Assembly recognizes May 30 to June 6 as ‘Alaska PrideFest 2015’ and encourages the Anchorage community to join in celebrating the diversity of the Municipality of Anchorage and the State of Alaska,” Gray-Jackson said to applause.
The theme of this year’s Pride Week was “Building Equality,” and that building process was evident by the number of people both participating in the parade and enjoying the festivities.