by Allison Fine
The term “Gay Pride,” coined by gay rights activist Thom Higgins in Minnesota, has become the most common way to articulate the many celebrations held during this month every year. In the U.S., Prides and festivals are usually held in the month of June to commemorate the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots, a series of demonstrations by the New York City Queer community protesting a violent raid of the Stonewall Inn and the ongoing brutality they were experiencing at the hands of the New York Police Department. Today, Pride Month is a time to celebrate the increased visibility of and continued desire for equality and self-affirmation for the LGBTQ+ community.
Residents and local activists have asked for Pride representation from their local governments and each year, more city governments are committing to finding ways to celebrate and show the commitment to inclusion of their LGBTQIA+ community members. The City of Seattle has been celebrating Pride officially since 1974 and theirs has been known as the go-to event for many years. Tacoma started a Pride festival in 1997. But in the 35 miles between the two major cities, mostly consisting of south King County, it has been a long time coming that other cities offered any kind of official representation for Pride Month.
The City of Federal Way had their first official Pride Month recognition in 2019, with the City Council reading a Pride Proclamation. Each Councilmember read a portion of the proclamation, representing their collective desire to be inclusive and show support of the Queer community that has long since lived in the city. Activists asked if the Pride flag could be raised the following year.
The fall brought a tense battle between a small group of activists and a group of community members who fought against any flag being raised that wasn’t the traditional three flags usually flown outside of City Hall (the American flag, the State of Washington flag, and the City of Federal Way flag). After a contentious Council meeting in December 2019, Mayor Jim Ferrell said that he would be raising the Pride flag proudly in June 2020 as a commitment to inclusion and protection under governmental speech.
Joshua Fike, who has lived in Federal Way for nearly 30 years, was there to see the rainbow flag raised on June 1, 2020 and said, “It’s nice [as a gay man] to feel that I have a home here where I grew up. I don’t have to go to Seattle or San Francisco to feel welcomed. Just a few years ago I was called a ‘fag’ by someone driving in a car while I was walking down 320th street. It’s nice to feel like my City is committed to my safety [by supporting the LGBT community].”
The June 1 2021 flag ceremony this year was attended by nearly 40 community members including Drag Queen Serena Starr, a Federal Way resident, who helped to raise the flag herself. A Pride Proclamation was read by the Council and there are also four pride flags flying down the sides of 320th street near Pacific Highway, one of the most visible places in the city.
Queer community activists and allies came together to start the Federal Way Pride Community in 2019 with the intent of having a festival in 2020. The pandemic made it impossible to have that event, but the group intends to hold the inaugural Federal Way Pride Festival in 2022. Find out more at the group’s Facebook page.
East of Federal Way, the City of Auburn has had Pride Month Proclamations since at least 2018 but raised the Pride Flag for the first time in 2020. Mayor Nancy Backus said, “We have had Pride [proclamations] for a few years, but it was time for more than words. Raising the Pride flag at City Hall allowed LGBTQIA+ members of our community to know that they matter and are welcome.” Backus added, “We are working with our LGBTQIA+ community to figure out how to have even more of a celebration in Auburn in 2022.”
The City of Kent has had Pride Month proclamations in the past but raised the Pride flag for the first time ever on June 14 with a small, little-publicized ceremony at City Hall. Community member Jayson Liu, a new resident to Kent, had emailed Mayor Dana Ralph and requested that the City celebrate Pride. Ralph responded with a Pride Proclamation read on June 1 and a flag raised to celebrate Pride for a week. Liu, who had previously made a similar request in Renton which was granted, said, “Having the Pride flag at City Hall means that the city, the people, and the government acknowledges the LGBTQ+ community exists, accepts us, welcomes us and treats us as equals.”
The City of Burien has a history of LGBTQIA+ inclusive community events via community organizations like Discover Burien. This year, there was a “Queer and Trans Pop-Up Shop” hosted by Vietnamese Queer group VietQ Seattle and the White Center Community Development Association hosted a “Queer N Teen” event in Greenbridge Plaza. Both groups can be found on Facebook.
The Burien City government, however, has historically been quiet about proclaiming June as Pride month. This comes as a surprise to many who followed the campaign of current Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx when she ran for City Council as an openly bi-sexual woman in 2017. Marx said, “I am really proud to have it flying [for the first time in 2021] but it’s infuriating that someone from the Council had to make this happen when our community had been having events like Drag Bingo and other Pride-related events for years.” Marx is also the executive director of the Seattle Pride organization.
City of Des Moines Councilmember Anthony Martinelli confirmed that on June 17 the Council will read a Pride Proclamation and will also raise the Pride flag, but it is unclear as to whether this was the first celebration for the city, and there are no other events planned at this time.
The City of Tukwila had their first Pride Festival in 2019 held by a now defunct community organization, but the City Council agendas do not indicate that they are making any type of proclamation in June 2021. Resident and Pride supporter Andrea H. Reay said that she is unsure about the future of Pride in Tukwila but believes that the Chamber of Commerce is looking at having events in 2022. Reay went on to say, ”Tukwila is an incredibly diverse community and our diversity is one of our greatest strengths. Being able to come together to celebrate Pride is an opportunity to focus on the fact that there is more that connects us than divides us.”
The City of SeaTac had their first ever Pride Proclamation in 2020. Councilmember Takele Gobena, an Ethiopian immigrant in his first term, brought the Pride Resolution to the Council, and many were surprised that the resolution passed considering the conservative history of the Council. 2021 brought another resolution from the Council, but there are no signs of any other efforts to celebrate Pride in SeaTac.
Much like Federal Way, the City of Renton planned on having their first Pride Festival in 2020, but COVID-19 caused a need to delay. They have had a Pride flag ceremony in the past and did so again in early June. An organization known at the Renton LGBTQIA+ Community created a “Pride Passport” program, partnering with more than 25 local businesses who support both Pride and the newly adopted Safe Place program. Once you have downloaded a passport and gotten stamps from the participating businesses, you can email in a photo of your passport for a chance at winning a prize.
Local activist and president of the Renton LGBTQIA+ Community Winter Cashman-Crane said, “Pride, for me this year, means resilience from the last [presidential] administration, from COVID-19, and from the continued battles we face for our rights and dignity.” They went on to say, “We are all so excited to see each other in person, but our community recognizes the importance of following health guidelines in the meantime.”
A 2021 Gallup poll reports that 5% of all Americans identify as LGBTQIA+ and in the Pacific Northwest, the percentage is even higher. In a time where there are many social issues that divide us, the growing number of Pride events speaks to the reality that inclusion matters. In south King County, rainbow flags are increasingly visible, which for many in the Queer community means you are welcome, loved, and included — right in your own home.
Allison Fine is a Bay Area, California native who has called Washington home since 2013. She is a social worker, community organizer, activist and advocate for people with special needs and survivors of domestic violence. She has various roles in political, Queer, feminist, and labor organizations. She lives in Federal Way with her daughter and their two dogs and two cats.
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