Matt Driscoll

Pride festival leaders to white supremacists: We’ve got a message for you

Celebrants are shown here enjoying the Tacoma Pride Festival on July 12, 2014. Organizers of this year’s event say recent hate messages posted around town will serve as a call to action for them and immigrant rights activists.
Celebrants are shown here enjoying the Tacoma Pride Festival on July 12, 2014. Organizers of this year’s event say recent hate messages posted around town will serve as a call to action for them and immigrant rights activists. News Tribune file photo

When Manny Santiago, the executive director of the Rainbow Center, talks about the history and meaning of Pride celebrations, he frequently uses the word resiliency.

As the leader of a nonprofit resource center for Tacoma’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Santiago knows the origins of Pride well. He’s familiar with the battles and struggles the LGBTQ community has endured over the last 50 years, and the blood, sweat and tears that have been shed to make things like Tacoma’s upcoming Pride Festival possible.

Recently, Santiago and others in Tacoma’s LGBTQ community got a blunt, unfortunate reminder of the work yet to be done.

As The News Tribune’s Craig Sailor reported, earlier this month the Rainbow Center and neighboring Oasis Youth Center were among dozens of locations downtown hit with anti-immigrant, white supremacist propaganda.

No one knows if the organizations were specifically targeted, but most say it doesn’t really matter.

What’s clear, they say, is that the LGBTQ community and its allies need to stand up to this disgusting display of hate and that this year’s Tacoma Pride Festival, which begins July 13, provides a powerful platform to do just that.

The response started to take shape last weekend during an impromptu meeting called in the aftermath of the latest display of white supremacy to rear its ugly head in Tacoma.

Organized by Troy Christensen, the executive director of the Korean Women’s Association, the meeting was attended by members of Tacoma’s LGBTQ community, immigrants’ rights advocates, nonprofit leaders as well as the mayor, four City Council members and Tacoma police.

With Pride on the horizon, the focus of the meeting, Christensen says, was to come together to “address recent hate activities and take proactive steps to ensure coordination, communication and shared safety and response strategy during this time.”

“There’s clearly an intersection between some people who leave their countries because of the oppression around being gay or trans and bisexual,” Christensen explains of the reason the posters hit so close to home for Tacoma’s LGBTQ community.

The posters appeared on the same weekend as Tacoma’s Families Belong Together Rally. Some included Nazi imagery. Many featured the headline, “Keep America American.”

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A poster produced by a white supremacist group is glued to a Tacoma city utility pole at South 25th and A Streets Sunday. It had already been partially torn down before being scrubbed off by Halley Knigge. Halley Knigge

“That left us all thinking this is a concern, especially with the proximity to Pride, and we wanted to make sure we have the right level of security and people are feeling safe,” Christensen says.

Safety at the Tacoma Pride Festival, according to Seth Kirby, the executive director of the Oasis Youth Center, has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind since the posters appeared. He says festival organizers have been working with Tacoma Police and vendors, and he’s confident proper protocols are in place.

Mostly, Kirby wants as many people as possible to show up to Pride, in part to deliver the message that Tacoma is not a place to recruit white supremacists and stoke hate and division.

“I think this is a moment and an opportunity to really invite people to come out to Tacoma Pride,” Kirby says. “This is a time for people to be visible and to show their support for communities that are being impacted and targeted by messages and acts of hate.”

Erik Seelbach, executive director of the Pierce County AIDS Foundation, says there’s an overlap between the LGBTQ community and immigrant communities.

“There aren’t really dividing lines,” Seelbach says.

More importantly, hate is hate, whatever form it takes — and it requires a unified response.

“It’s about hate of the other, so all of us that are on those edges and are included in those lists of people who don’t belong, we have to stand together to say that’s not OK, we all do belong, ” Seelbach says of the posters and the sentiments behind them.

I asked Santiago if the posters surprised him.

“I am a Latino gay man in the U.S. I’ve had to live with this for the 18 years that I’ve lived in the mainland. It is not new to me, and it is not surprising to me. I want people to understand that,” Santiago says.

All of which brings us back to the origins of Pride celebrations in Tacoma and across the world. The hate we’ve seen in Tacoma over the past weeks and months demonstrates their continued necessity, and a lasting purpose.

“We hold both the celebration and the advocacy for our community through Pride,” Santiago says. “It’s a celebration of our resiliency. It’s a great way to show everybody … that our community is not going to be intimated.”

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