From its beginning as a small gathering of people at Fairhaven Park in 1999, Bellingham Pride has grown into the second largest pride event in Washington.Bellingham Pride weekend started Friday, July 7, and will go through Sunday, July 9, when the parade will make its way through downtown to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community in Bellingham and the surrounding area. Jordan Neyens, a senior at Western studying public relations and theater, is the executive director of Bellingham Pride, a nonprofit organization in Bellingham. According to the organization’s website, it hosts festivals, parades and youth events throughout the area while creating a safe environment for the LGBTQ+ community. Neyens said as Bellingham Pride has gotten bigger, the organization has been able to do more with the event, and has been expanding what it is able to do for the community and accessibility, especially financial accessibility. All of the events hosted directly by Bellingham Pride are free, he said.The first event of Pride Weekend was the Pride Dance on Friday, July 7 from 8:30-11:30 p.m. The event was sponsored by Bellingham Pride, Whatcom County PFLAG and Make.Shift Art Space, where the dance was held. Neyens said the Pride Dance was for all ages and an opportunity for up-and-coming drag queens to perform in an open space.On Saturday, July 8, Bellingham Pride will host a family picnic from noon to 3 p.m. “The family picnic is a potluck that is put on by Bellingham Pride. We’re going to be barbecuing burgers, veggie dogs, regular hot dogs and all that good stuff at Maritime Heritage Park,” Neyens said. “It's a good opportunity for families to come out and celebrate Pride Weekend in a more family-friendly setting.” HomeSkillet, a local restaurant and sponsor of Bellingham Pride, will be hosting a Pride Breakfast from 8-11:30 a.m. Sunday, July 9, on the day of the parade and festival. The restaurant is owned by husband and wife duo Kirby and Tina White, and it will be the second year the restaurant has hosted the breakfast, Tina White said.“It was a last minute thing last year and it went so well,” White said. “It immediately had that feeling of tradition.” During last year's Pride Breakfast, the restaurant donated over $2,500 to Bellingham Pride, despite there being no suggested donation. “People were just that generous,” White said. White said when deciding to become a sponsor, she and her husband wondered why not everybody sponsored Bellingham Pride. It's their community, she said, and they’ve been supported by the community forever and HomeSkillet wants to give back and be a good ally.
“As an ally, just remember that pride isn't just one day a year,” White said. “That's the most important thing to remember — Pride is 365 days a year.”As a large sponsor, HomeSkillet got a free booth at Pride, but it donated the table space to Northwest Youth Services so the organization could get its message out, she said.In Bellingham, Northwest Youth Services has been providing help for at-risk, runaway and homeless youth since 1976. According to its website, the organization also provides support for LGBTQ+ youth through counseling, hosting events and connecting them to LGBTQ+-friendly service providers in the community. The Pride Festival begins at noon Sunday, July 9, and will be set up at the Depot Market Square in downtown Bellingham. The parade also starts at noon at the corner of Halleck and Ohio Street, traveling along Cornwall Avenue to end at the festival.“The Pride Parade and Festival have been going on for years and are the main staples of what Bellingham Pride is,” Neyens said. Pride Festival is set up to host live entertainment, food and local organizations. This year, there will be 46 vendors including the organizations Northwest Youth Services, Planned Parenthood and Camp Ten Trees. Poni Colina, the community outreach leader for Camp Ten Trees, said the camp is a nonprofit organization that runs sleepaway camps in the spring, summer and fall, for LGBTQ+ youth and allies as well as members of LGBTQ+ families.“We love showing up at Pride fests because we want people to know about our camp and the safe space we create for the youth we serve. We want people with young folks in their lives to know about our program and what we can do,” Colina said. “The work we do is life-changing, and it's really incredible for these young folks to be in a community and to be able to have role models who they identify with to look up to.”As Bellingham Pride has grown over the years, the organization is expanding the scope of events, with more taking place after July, Neyens said. He said in August and September, Bellingham Pride will be partnering with Pickford Film Center to host two screenings of the play, "Angels in America" about the AIDs crisis of the 1980s that's being produced by the London National Theatre.The screenings will be followed by a discussion that will be hosted by some community leaders about the themes of the play and its effects on America, Neyens said. (Editor’s note: Jordan Neyens is currently a reporter for The Western Front but spoke in his role as executive director.)