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Archive for June 12th, 2009

Local Pride

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It was the summer of 1999 and I found myself in Fairbanks, Alaska for work.  Having been away from Fairbanks for a few years, I went out for a walk to see what had changed.  Off in the distance I noticed a rainbow banner spanning a downtown street.  Colorful banners and flags are not uncommon during the winter darkness, but this banner looked recent – not as if it had survived the winter.

Upon closer inspection, I noticed a telephone number, so I dialed it and received a message.  I had stumbled upon, and was minutes away from the beginning of the Fairbanks gay pride parade.

In a small park at the corner of 8th and Cushman a handful of folks began gathering, then soon thereafter, a few more.  Then came a few more in convertibles and pick-up trucks.  A van filled with Christians showed up.  They weren’t confrontational, but they were conversational (I’d imagine everyone in Fairbanks knows one another).

Once a sizable group had formed, perhaps 15 or 20 people of which I was one, we headed north along Cushman – a couple pick up trucks loaded with a few drag queens and a boom box.  The rest of us walked.

At the time, downtown Fairbanks was comprised of the local TV station, one or two tourist traps and several dive bars.  Local drunks emerged from doorways in reaction to the commotion – because twenty people on a Fairbanks street has a noticeable audible presence, especially when combined with boom box blaring disco music.

From my mobile phone I called my boyfriend in Orlando.  “You will NEVER guess what I’m doing.” I said when he answered the phone.  Following the parade, the group reformed at Alaskaland Park (now known as Pioneer Park) for a cook out.  I was chatting with a woman who had traveled to Fairbanks for this event.
“Can you believe the turn out!” she said.  “It is so exciting to be around this many people,” she continued.

I think about that day whenever I encounter a pride-day celebration, because it took far more bravery for those few folks in Fairbanks to march through the city than it does for the hundreds that do so each year in Columbus.

Central Ohio is dotted with plenty of small,well populated towns where one will also find homosexual residents:  Newark, Granville, Lancaster, Circleville, Chillicothe, London, Marysville and Marion.  Imagine if, next weekend, the gay residents of these towns took to the streets simply for the sake of demonstrating their presence.   Nothing fancy – they could do it as simply as the folks in Fairbanks did.

When the local news broadcasts images of Columbus’  Pride Day celebration to the general population it’s easy for the viewing area to think that “that only happens in Columbus” (or Cleveland or Cincinnati).  There is a far greater connection made when rural residents understand that the gay population of Central Ohio is not just those who attend an afternoon-long parade in some large city but are actually their neighbors who live down the street.

There was a time, and perhaps it’s still now, when there was safety in numbers –  when a large turnout was considered a good thing.  There’s always talk about how many people attend a gay pride event – even when its spoken by a woman from rural Alaska.  Maybe it’s time to hear the same words spoken by the folks of rural Ohio.

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