Sunshine, rainbows highlight Tacoma’s ‘Out in the Park’ festival

“Relax,” one of the banners said. “It’s only sex.”

It was advice nobody at Saturday’s Out in the Park festival seemed to need.

Thousands of people who attended Tacoma’s annual gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender extravaganza let it all hang out, packing themselves into a hot and sweaty mass of bare skin, rainbow hues, deafening music and mutual acceptance.

Saturday afternoon’s event was part of a multiday festival designed to celebrate the community’s diversity, freedom

of expression and political progress made in the past year.

Dozens of vendors lined both sides of the street: LGBT advocacy groups, banks, drugstores, law firms, churches, politicians, unions and an array of chiropractors, hospitals and charity organizations.

For more than a decade, the Out in the Park festival took place in Wright Park, where the grass and trees tended to soften the heat and hormones.

Lately the festival has been confined to two blocks of concrete pavement — on Broadway between Ninth and 11th streets — and with the afternoon temperature topping 90 degrees, the reflected heat had attendees seeking shade as they took in the lip-synching shows, psychic readings, drag performances and music.

How many different things can be dyed rainbow — the hues of LGBT awareness? Plenty, as it turns out.

There were rainbow loincloths, hair, hats, tutus, bras, fox tails, fairy wings and at least one rainbow Chihuahua. Power extension cords snaking their way to amplifiers were secured with rainbow-colored duct tape.

Out in the Park was just one part of the city’s 10-day gay pride celebration, which began Friday when Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland presided over a rainbow flag-raising ceremony at City Hall.

“We are very proud in Tacoma, Washington, to be the first city in America, I believe, to fly the pride flag over City Hall,” Strickland told the assembled crowd.

“Some places have a pride day; they have a parade,” Strickland said. “We do it for 10 days in Tacoma because when we do something, we really get down.”

For those over 21, Saturday’s street celebration continued at The Mix and Club Silverstone, two gender-friendly bars on St. Helens Avenue, which was closed to traffic for the night.

Sunday morning at 10 a.m., Urban Grace Church will present a special “equality” service, followed by an LGBT panel discussion at 12:15 p.m.

On Monday, an LGBT Film Series starts at The Grand Cinema theater on Fawcett Street.

Until 2011, Tacoma’s annual pride celebration was a one-day event, consisting of Out in the Park. The festival has expanded each year since then.