The Bellingham Pride Festival on Saturday, July 11, and Sunday, July 12, had something extra to celebrate this year, coming only weeks after the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage rights across the country.
In Bellingham, where marriage equality has been legal since 2012 with the statewide vote, the pride festival started in 2001 and has been a community staple ever since, Bellingham Pride Chairperson, Brian Spencer said.
Spencer said that the meaning of the term “pride” has changed in the years since LGBT rights became an issue in this country.
“Pride originally in 1969 and for the next few decades after that, they were really pride marches, they were protests,” Spencer said. “[For] about the last 10 to 15 years, they’ve become more of celebrations.”
The Pride Festival kicked off with a picnic Saturday at Maritime Heritage Park. Barbecue was served and music filled the air while the Bellingham LGBT community had a chance for to join together before the parade the following day.
Bellingham couple Shea McDonald and Jerri Lentz attended the picnic in order to show support for the community. They said that while their perception of pride hasn’t changed with the Supreme Court ruling, the implications of the decision will have direct effect on their relationship.
Lentz said that if something tragic happened and one of them were injured in another state, the other will be able to enter a hospital room as a spouse rather than being denied access.
“We have entitlement as a couple now that we didn’t have before, because other states didn’t recognize gay marriage,” Lentz said.
The pride parade on Sunday traversed Cornwall Avenue on its way to Depot Market Square. Participants marching included the Bellingham Roller Betties and local church groups supporting LGBT rights, with the Rainbow City marching band bringing up the rear.
Among them was a woman hoisting a sign reading “Equal dignity victory lap after 40 years of marching,” with many other signs referred to the recent Supreme Court case that made same-sex marriage legal everywhere in the U.S.
For Spencer, the most recent iteration of the Bellingham Pride Festival took on greater importance with the passing of same-sex marriage rights.
“There’s really no better way for us to come out of decades of struggling for rights [than] to celebrate them, now that we’ve achieved them,” Spencer said. “The Supreme Court ruling was really the culmination of all of that.”
One of the marchers in the parade was Western junior Annika Fleming, an officer of the WWU Rainbow Vikings club. The Rainbow Vikings are a group of LGBT students and supporters of the LGBT population on campus who hope to make a difference in the community, Fleming said.
“There’s a lot of people who are frustrated that we passed legislation to bring marriage to the LGBT community, but we didn’t bring housing rights and rights to not get fired,” Fleming said.
Fleming said the number of homeless youth who identify as LGBT is much too high, and in many states a person can still be fired for identifying as LGBT.
“There’s still so much ground to cover,” Fleming said.
Although it is a win for the LGBT community, the Supreme Court decision is not the end of the fight for LGBT rights, Fleming said. Many in the LGBT community have mixed feelings about the priority placed on marriage rights when much more pertinent issues still exist, Fleming said.
After the parade, approximately 4,000 attendees gathered to hear live music and hear Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville and County Councilman Satpal Sidhu speak, as well as watch the annual drag show.
Same-sex marriage protesters were also present at the festival, raising signs with messages that reflected their viewpoints, including “burn in hell” and “hell awaits all sinners.”
Festival goers responded by encircling the protestors and raising signs of their own, blocking out the protesters’ messages. Drums were beat in an attempt to drown out the protesters’ megaphones, and police officers were also on scene.
Spencer said the pride festival doesn’t mind the protestors being there, citing their right to their own opinions.
“Anyone who’s nonviolent and peacefully gathers is welcome to join us,” Spencer said.
Layla Tromble was one of those blocking out the protesters’ messages by standing directly in front of a megaphone waving a rainbow flag.
“I felt like there needed to be a counterpoint to them, other than just the parade,” Tromble said.
The Supreme Court decision ruled in favor of a Constitutional guarantee of marriage rights for same-sex couples across the country on Friday, June 26, a landmark ruling that comes after decades of struggle for gay-rights supporters.
The decision arrived two years to the day after the Supreme Court took an earlier step towards marriage equality in striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as being between one man and one women.
In the most recent ruling, the court outlined the requirement of states to license a marriage between two people of the same sex, as well as recognize same-sex marriages from out of state.