An estimated 1,500 people turned out for the Whatcom Youth Pride parade and festival in Bellingham on June 4.
Starting at 10:30 a.m., queer youth from Whatcom County marched through the streets of downtown Bellingham, while adults and community members waving flags and colorful signs cheered them on from the sidelines.
Many adults in the crowd wore shirts reading “free mom hugs” or “free dad hugs.” One such adult, Kathy Grinstead, said she was at the parade to support her daughter, who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’m just trying to be a supportive mom,” Grinstead said.
Grinstead said that when she was young, there were no events such as the one put on by Whatcom Youth Pride to celebrate the queer community. She said it’s awesome to get to support queer youth of the next generation.
“As a society, we’ve come a long way, but there’s still so much more to go,” Grinstead said.
The parade began and ended at Bellingham High School and was followed by a festival event extending from the school parking lot, across the courtyard and into the cafeteria.
Youth donned pride flags and danced in the school courtyard to songs by iconic queer artists such as Elton John, Queen and Girl in Red. Other students drew pictures and wrote uplifting messages on the courtyard bricks with chalk.
In the parking lot, local businesses such as West Coast Pops and Sammies Vegan served food and refreshments. Crowds of festival participants perused tables set up by local organizations such as the Whatcom County Library System, Planned Parenthood, the YMCA and Animals as Natural Therapy.
Bethany Barrett, one of the founders of Whatcom Youth Pride, said that having organizations table at the event and show their support for queer youth is priceless.
“Because they’ll remember it,” Barrett said. “When they walk in the library, they’ll be like, I know there’s a place for me here.”
The festival also included a performance from local drag queens. In the middle of the performance, the queens held a halftime show, where volunteers from the crowd were brought into the courtyard to lip-sync and show off their runway walks.
Devyn Devine, the performer who hosted the drag show, said they hoped the performance inspired the youth of the LGBTQ+ community to express themselves however they want.
“Drag can be whatever you want it to be,” Devine said.
In a previous interview, Whatcom Youth Pride board members Bethany Barett and Hannah Gough spoke about how the parade is a great source of healing for queer adults who never got to experience a celebration like this in their youth.
Barrett said that this year, many adults told her that they had cried throughout the entirety of the parade.
Whatcom Youth Pride held its first parade three years ago in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the event to shut down for the following two years.
Barrett said that having the event back in person again was a wonderful experience.
“It’s like healing,” Barrett said. “For youth to be able to not just be together with their own peers, but also to see all the other kids they don’t know out in the community. It's amazing. It feels really, really good.”
Jordan Oliver (she/her) is a city life reporter for The Front. She is majoring in sociology with a minor in journalism. When not working or studying, she enjoys photography, bouldering, drinking overpriced coffee and watching tv shows about pirates.
You can reach her at email@example.com.