Bi Pride at Portland’s Pride

The alarm woke me from a non-sleep at 7:00 am on June 19. I stumbled to the shower then crawled into a black T-shirt which had been painted with pink, purple, and blue acrylics in the shape of a necktie two nights prior. After cramming food and coffee into an angry stomach, I donned the world’s gaudiest blazer and pedaled off carrying a bag stuffed with sunscreen, more homemade T-shirts, and the Bi Brigade banner. My destination: Portland’s Pride Parade.

Arriving early is essential. I got to spend the morning with our contingent’s monitor, Stephen, who is an old school bi+ activist and a personal mentor. We spread the banner across the backs of two benches in the park, so people could find us, and lay the T-shirts on the seats, hoping to sell a few. My hair was heavily knotted from dancing at the previous night’s Gaylabration with fellow bi+ organizers, Kemi and Janek. I untangled the mess strand by strand as Stephen and I watched the empty streets slowly fill with queer folks. Portland’s social media was blowing up from countless hours spent promoting our presence in Pride, but no one was sure what to expect.

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Bi Brigade Portland Pride 2014

Bi Brigade first marched in 2014 as a small group under the leadership of Cameron Kude, our founder. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around to organize for us in 2015 and we missed the registration deadline. The parade was left with no official bisexual representation, but twelve of us piggybacked on Sunday Assembly‘s contingent. I remember the announcer being slightly confused as we walked by, probably because we were unlisted. So immediately afterwards, we marked our calendars with reminders for 2016’s January registration. Stephen followed through and got us in at number 30 out of 151!

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Bi Brigade Portland Pride 2015

We were reminiscing about this when familiar faces began appearing. These were soon followed by unfamiliar faces! Brooke, one of our newest organizers, placed markers next to one of the T-shirts and asked members to autograph the shirt, creating a guestbook of sorts. Portland’s Raging Grannies rehearsed their choreography to Edwin Starr‘s “War” next door, but as my phone lit up with questions I missed seeing the rest of our neighbors. I bounced between replying to messages and greeting new arrivals as our numbers swelled, sprawling across the entire park block.

At 11:00, the parade’s official start time, Stephen mentioned that we should probably assemble our contingent. He moseyed over to our designated rectangle of road while I hopped on one of the benches and flapped my arms, “BI BRIGADE! OVER HERE! HEY, BISEXUALS! LISTEN UP!” It took a few seconds for everyone to congregate around my barking – enough time for me to process the number of gazing faces and grow dizzy. I suddenly had no idea what to say. What followed was a mix of Bi Brigade’s history, babble, and several variations of “Holy crap, this is amazing! I can’t believe how many of you – us! – are here!” I think this only lasted a minute or so before I remembered my objective and pointed the group to Stephen as he waved.

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So many bi signatures!

The result was shockingly well structured; a few volunteers grabbed the banner and led the way while I hung back to clean up the benches. A few T’s remained (and are still available for a small, $10 donation to Bi Brigade :D), but we’d sold enough to make a humble profit! One shirt was no longer for sale. Brooke’s work and the signatures had transformed the garment; the signatures wove it into the fabric of Portland’s bisexual culture. It was bizarre staring at that piece of cloth and recognizing that this history was in the making. Soon I headed over to the contingent, making the rounds and connecting with as many folks as possible.

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Photography at it’s finest

After a few cycles through the pack, I realized that we needed a group picture before taking off. I’m not a tall fellow, so grabbed another one of our new organizers, Collin, who let me climb onto his shoulders for a better vantage point. The results were about what you would expect from an untrained, hungover photographer as he wobbles back and forth in a chicken-fight pose. Still, they offer the best estimate of our starting numbers: 70 people! Seconds after I hopped down the parade began.

 

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Tyrone Slothrop would be proud

Something happened out there – I dunno what, but something. Orlando was on everyone’s mind. We each took a step forward. And then another. Adrenaline burned, coursing through my veins. I hadn’t slept, preferring to dance all night. The crowd roared. It took less than one hundred meters for my beard, blazer, and acrylic Bi Tie to synergize into the pinnacle of gauche style – I had the strength, stamina, and sweat of five thousand used car salesmen and began running laps around Bi Brigade’s contingent, distributing hugs and high fiving the crowd while relentlessly screaming, “HAPPY PRIDE, Y’ALL!” Everything was a blur.

Stephen had started up a classic cheer just before we rounded a corner and our march was paused, directly next to the one truly awful element of every Pride: the protesters. Typically, this is the nightmare scenario – getting stuck in place, forced to endure their hateful slurs – but not for Bi Brigade. “We’re here!”  We chanted. “We’re queer!” Our voices were powerful, resonating through the streets. “We’re fabulous!” Lost in the moment, I turned outward to the rest of the crowd, and began rhythmically raising my arms, calling them into our anthem. “Get used to it!”

Bit by bit, they joined the chorus, and the protesters’ megaphones were rendered useless; their futile hatred drowned out by our love. “We’re here! We’re queer! We’re fabulous! Get used to it!” All together, over and over and over….

As for the rest of the parade, I think things happened. All along the route, I witnessed folks step out from the crowd to join us, but I couldn’t count past ten in the moment’s frenzy. I remember hugging my housemates, my friends, and even a few former students as we marched (I teach at a Christian university). I owe a special thanks to the many Brigadiers who offered me water, shade, and support – both moral and physical – as we progressed through the city.

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A handful of Bi Brigade organizers after the parade

At the end of the route, we found a mighty tree on the banks of the Willamette and wrapped our banner around it. I stayed on my feet long enough for a few pictures and many hugs, shuffling back and forth before collapsing into the shade. Folks hung around, sitting in a circle to chat and play games. I lingered on the peripheral, zoned out and in the fade, contemplating my role that morning. No words remained except another iteration:

We’re here! We’re queer! We’re fabulous! GET USED TO IT!

 

Sean Yeager
Sean is an organizer for the Portland bisexual community. He has a masters degree in Particle Physics and Cosmology and teaches at several Portland universities. He is interested in literature, music, bicycling, cognitive science, travel, and nature.