Tacoma honors pride, love
After a short countdown from Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, a rainbow pride flag was raised above City Hall on Friday to mark the beginning of the Tacoma Pride Festival, a celebration of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“Happy pride, everyone,” Strickland said to the small crowd gathered to celebrate.
Minutes earlier state Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, had told the gathering about a 1990 election that dealt an overwhelming blow to an anti-discrimination initiative. Jenkins and other backers found sanctuary at City Hall.
“We marched here,” she said. “We didn’t know where else to go after that crushing defeat.”
It was one of many setbacks and defeats the LGBT community would face in the campaign for equal rights. But, Jinkins said, it did not break their spirit.
The Legislature eventually made discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace illegal. Now, as the crowd was reminded, the focus is on same-sex marriage.
“I’m proud of Tacoma,” Jinkins said. “We’re the gritty city because we keep coming back. We in Tacoma don’t give up. It doesn’t matter what the topic is. But gay rights is one of them.”
About 6,000 celebrants are expected to fill Broadway today for Out in the Park, the highlight of the festival. In 2011, more than 8,500 people attended the festival’s nine days of films, parties and other events, organizers said.
It’s been a momentous year for the LGBT community, both on national and local levels.
Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature made Washington the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage. The law was put on hold in June, pending a November vote on Referendum 74. A yes vote on the referendum would be to preserve the law as written.
Microsoft executives Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer donated $100,000 each to the Yes on Referendum 74 campaign. A video of the floor speech by state Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, in support of her lesbian daughter and the same-sex marriage bill went viral.
Nationally, President Barack Obama endorsed same-sex marriage in May after Vice President Joseph Biden voiced support for it. The military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian service members (“don’t ask, don’t tell”) was formally ended and an official ceremony at the Pentagon celebrated Gay Pride Month in June.
CNN anchor Anderson Cooper came out as gay, as did “Big Bang Theory” actor Jim Parsons. Earlier this month, rising R&B star Frank Ocean blogged and sang about his unrequited love for a man. Ocean performed a sold-out show Friday night at Seattle’s Showbox.
The plight of bullied LGBT kids rose in the public’s consciousness and community groups responded, leading to an increase of support for young people at Oasis, a Pierce County drop-in center for LGBT youth.
Many of the events in Tacoma during the nine-day run of Pride will focus on these issues and others.
DON’T ASK OR TELL
Tacoma resident Pablo Monroy is a newly enlisted cavalry scout with the Washington National Guard. It was a “blue-to-green” transition for the 24-year-old University of Washington Tacoma student after a four-year stint in the Navy.
Not only has Monroy, a sergeant, changed uniforms, but he also now can be open about his sexual orientation.
Monroy, a Pasco native, said he knew in high school he was gay but joined the Navy despite the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy out of a sense of duty and love of country.
“When someone joins the service, they don’t think of themselves,” he said. “I wanted to protect my family and protect my country. I didn’t really think about the fear of being found out before I got in.”
Monroy excelled, getting four promotions in two years. But he said he was frustrated he couldn’t take a boyfriend to official Navy functions, even though his straight male counterparts would take women they had met just hours before.
“It gets you angry,” he said.
In 2007, a fellow sailor tried to get him thrown out of the service over his orientation, but his chief let the matter drop.
“I had good leadership that supported me,” Monroy said. “They saw I was an outstanding sailor who happened to be gay.”
Monroy’s partner, Derrick Peacock, will be staffing the American Military Partner Association booth at Out in the Park. The organization is a support, advocacy and resource network for the civilian spouses and partners of LGBT service members.
On Thursday, a discussion, “After Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Creating a More Inclusive Military,” will follow the reading of Lanford Wilson’s play, “Fifth of July,” at The Broadway Center.
Young gay and lesbian military members have long used Oasis as a haven from the secret lives they led under “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Since repeal of the policy, there’s been at least one change among the center’s military clientele, said the center’s director, Seth Kirby.
“We see them walking in the door in uniform,” he said.
While gay service members no longer have to be hidden, Oasis itself has been in the closet for its 26-year existence. To protect its clientele, the center has been at an undisclosed location, most recently near South Pine and 38th streets.
That will change this year, Kirby said.
“Three years ago 75 percent (of the youths) were opposed to moving to a public location,” he said. “(Now) youth are seeing community organizations supporting them.”
That, in turn, has led the youths to feel safe and become visible, he said.
The center, open to people ages 14 to 24, offers youths a welcoming atmosphere away from bullying and taunts and gives them education, leadership skills, resources and connections with peers and the community, Kirby said.
Oasis is on track to serve 450 individuals this year, Kirby said, representing about 4,000 visits.
Skyler Howard is one of the Oasis youths who support a more visible role for the center. He said the general community needs to know LGBT youths exist.
“It will open the door to more knowledge in the community,” said Howard, 18. “Maybe it will make them understand more.”
Howard’s fellow students at Pierce College know him as Skyler, a young man about to begin a career in the culinary arts. But when he entered Curtis High School in University Place at 16 his friends knew him as Angie, the girl who liked other girls.
“I labeled myself as a lesbian because I didn’t have a word for it,” Howard said of his transgender identity.
But he knew from a young age he was different from other girls.
“It’s a lifetime of having an out-of-body experience,” Howard said. “Your brain doesn’t match your body.”
At 17, he began medically and socially transitioning from a girl to a boy.
That’s when Oasis became vital to him, Howard said.
“My friends (at Curtis High School) were supportive but they didn’t fully understand what it was and what I was going through,” he said.
“At Oasis there are people going through the same thing. They are educated about trans issues. They are able to give me advice and knowledge that my parents couldn’t because they haven’t been exposed to it as much.”
The center will hold a barbecue for LGBT youths today after Out in the Park. A fundraiser, “Oasis Proud Outloud,” will be held on July 21 at the Pantages Theater.
The pro same-sex marriage coalition, Washington United for Marriage, will be embedded at all of the Pride events, said Michelle Douglas, executive director of the Rainbow Center, a downtown Tacoma LGBT resource center. The campaign will recruit volunteers and engage voters in conversations, she said.
One-on-one conversations are vital to changing minds, said Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello, who, like Douglas, is a volunteer for Pierce County for Marriage, a local leadership consortium associated with Washington United for Marriage.
“It’s the only way you can reach undecided voters,” Mello said.
The marriage issue is important to Mello as a civic leader but also on a personal level. He wants to marry his partner Jerry Hallman, a major in the U.S. Army Reserves. Hallman is deploying to Kuwait in two weeks.
“We’re waiting for it to get legal,” Mello said.
But it’s more than just legalities for Mello.
“People know what a marriage is, but they don’t know what a domestic partnership or civil union is,” he said. “Domestic partnership means nothing to the public. Marriage is the word we use in American society to define a long and committed relationship.”
Currently, state law allows same-sex couples to register as domestic partners, which provides some legal benefits.
For Douglas, it’s about equality.
“People are ready to get on with their lives and not have special language for our commitments,” she said. “We want what other families have.”
Opponents contend same-sex marriage upends the very definition of marriage.
Calls seeking comment from the anti-same-sex marriage campaign, Preserve Marriage Washington, were not returned this week.
In June, when signatures for the referendum were delivered to the Capitol, Preserve Marriage Washington chairman Joseph Backholm said same-sex marriage opens the door to polygamy and marriage within families. He said the law would redefine marriage as it has been known for generations.
Members of the Rev. Phil Spagnolo’s South Hill Calvary Chapel helped gather signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. He said Friday that he has no opposition to the LGBT community – just the legislation.
“We have a strong heart for them,” he said.
Spagnolo said same-sex marriage leads down a slippery slope.
“God has defined marriage very clearly for us,” he said. “It’s between a man and a woman. It’s the building block of society. ”
He’s particularly concerned about the impact same-sex marriage would have on children.
“People see law as morality,” he said. “In our own children’s lives they are taught what the law says and they think it’s morality.”
Monroy and Peacock don’t feel that same-sex marriage threatens tradition. They plan to wed Aug. 11 in Port Orchard.
Monroy will be in full dress military uniform; Peacock will be in a tuxedo. The pair started planning the 200-guest affair with cake and reception after the Legislature legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year. They continued with the planning after the law was suspended.
“We’ll have to wait until after November whether we sign a marriage certificate or a domestic partnership,” Monroy said.
If the referendum loses in November, the couple said they will go forward with their lives and partnership, however it’s defined.
“It’s not going to stop us from being together or being happy,” Monroy said.
Still, passing Referendum 74 is important to them.
“It’s a huge thing to know you’re married,” Peacock said.