Pride has always been an event that has meant the world to me; acceptance and community for the queer world, support and love with parades, dances, and booths all in one place to remind you that you are welcome, you are loved. This year my local Rogue Valley Pride went through some changes. We always hear about big city prides, but it’s wonderful the number of smaller towns that also manage to host prides. The LGBT+ community of Southern Oregon needs love and support too! These do not always have the massive funding and support of the long established prides of bigger cities. This year, a new group took over the organization of our local pride. With Lotus Rising Project taking over the organization, they were looking for volunteers and I wanted nothing more than to be a part of my hometown’s awesome pride celebration.
I showed up for the first meeting, not knowing how folks would respond to amBi Southern Oregon, our wonderful bi social club. I was hesitant because bisexuality is often ignored by pride organizers, but I was immediately made welcome and they were thrilled to have more volunteers. Due to the fact that Lotus Rising Project took over Pride at the last minute, we only had four months to plan. Unfortunately this meant that it was much too late to apply for many grants and we were short on funds. In addition to helping with fundraising ideas, I was able to suggest that we apply for a grant through amBi. Ultimately, the grant came through and amBi was able to be the main sponsor for Rogue Valley Pride 2016. As far as I know, this is the first time the main sponsor of a regional Pride parade and festival was an explicitly bi organization. Talk about bi visibility! It was great to know that we could help give Southern Oregon the Pride that it deserves. Although I’ve attended and participated in prides, I’d never been on the planning side. I loved seeing this whole thing come together, and for me the icing on the cake was when I was made Grand Marshal.
AmBi’s Rocky Horror themed float
As the lead organizer of amBi Southern Oregon, there was also a lot to be done in terms of getting the amBi float ready for pride. The group decided on a Rocky Horror Picture Show theme for the float. We had some fabulous local drag queens and burlesque performers on the a flatbed truck dressed as characters and leading everyone in the Time Warp. There were more characters surrounding the truck and handing out all kinds of bi swag. Finally the majority of the group walked along with a giant bi flag. Our float was bursting with energy and love, and the crowd went wild for us. Our float was the talk of the parade, and many came up to the booth later in the day to tell us how entranced they were with it and wanted to know more about the super fun group that got their attention. For the second year in a row the Ashland Daily Tidings featured an image of the amBi float in their Pride story.
As amBi went on dancing to the Time Warp, I was busy being the grand marshal at the front of the parade. It was a different experience. I had a girl walking next to me holding a sign that explained who and what I was. It was in that moment that I was scared out of my mind, yet completely empowered. I was just walking down the street, instructed to smile and wave, and hopefully that would be enough to show these people all of the love and work that I have put into amBi. It wasn’t. Nothing except amBi could show these people how much amBi means to me. So I just kept walking and waving, hoping that enough people would read my shirt and approach me after the parade and ask me about amBi.
Our wonderful amBi contingent for 2016 Rogue Valley Pride
At the end of the parade, I waited and hopped onto the flatbed to get a ride to our festival booth. I was sprawled out on my back on the flatbed with our bi flag under me. I closed my eyes and let it all sink in. This feeling I had driving around with my fellow bis, just beaming about the beauty of what the day meant and how happy they felt to be there and to be accepted. That was what I wanted to express to my future audience at the bandshell. I let their warm-hearted comments seep into my skin with the sunshine and try to find a way to put that into my speech.
We finally made it to the booth, where some incredible volunteers had helped us set up as I was busy with other pride related duties. The booth next to me even offered us their spare awning. When I arrived, I was seeing my booth for the first time put together and I felt nothing but love from my community.
Kaylee Walker as Grand Marshal
I was bouncing around the booth, talking to as many people at once as possible. I was in the middle of handing someone a bracelet when I heard the speaker from the bandshell ask for the grand marshals to come to the stage for their speeches. I stopped in my tracks and excused myself, telling another member to cover for me, then sprinted full force down the bumpiest and wildly steep hill in the middle of this park trying to desperately make it in time. The juniors were just arriving on the stage as I was flying down through the center of the audience. I finally reached the stage and hopped up as my juniors sighed with relief to see me. I stood there panting and had them go first. I wanted to have a moment to catch my breath, but also wanted to be the last thing the audience focused on so my words would resonate with them longer. They gave very brief speeches about being teen and queer. It was sweet to see such young people be so proud and confident. Then it was my turn.
I explained to this large crowd of strangers that we were all here because we all had love for one another, and that in times of need, we work together to build the things that create such important foundations to this community. I told them how blessed I felt to know that amBi was able to help facilitate Rogue Valley Pride. I told them how monumental it was for a group of bi people to be sponsoring Pride when historically they have been excluded from the heterosexual world, as well as the queer world. For us to be able to assist our local LGBT+ community in this capacity was wonderful. I continued talking about how that was the essence of amBi. Our focus is building a community and creating a genuine connection with those around us. I talked about how amBi has become a home to me and many others by providing such a welcoming environment to all who join us and how quickly having that can change your life. I said my final thanks to the audience one more, and this time, I knew they had understood what I was desperate for them to hear. They understood what building a community can mean to me and everyone else in the LGBT+ community.
As soon as I stepped off to the stage people began running up to me asking about this group I was leading and if we had any openings or asking if I could manage to make room for one more member. I happily explained that there was no cap on members and that anyone could join. I would jot down my information or they would take out their phone so they could add me on Facebook to get connected immediately. Most had already picked up the amBi postcard from our booth and were grasping it tightly in their hands, unwilling to lose it, but still begging for more information. I could see in their eyes that they had had finally found their home, just like I had with amBi a few years before.
After hours of working the booth, it was finally time to tear down and start focusing on the last portion of the evening. We tore everything down, crammed it all in my Buick and headed over to help setup for the dance that would take place in a few hours. I got there only to find that the many volunteers had been hard at work and there was very little left to do. My loving amBi family was soon bombarding me with questions. Had I eaten? Did I drink enough water today? How much sleep did I get that night? My answers weren’t sufficient, so I was handed a snack and drink, and told to take a nap once I finished.
I tried to argue, but I was truly exhausted from the busy day and the previous night’s fundraiser. I realized I hadn’t sat down for hours. I soon fell asleep and woke up to the room glowing and fully decorated. We still had another hour before the dance, so I found some fellow amBi members and we snuck off for a bite. I was still in my grand marshal sash and now wearing a unicorn hat. I was spotted by several other Pride-goers who cheered me and frantically asked if I would be at the celebration dance. I sat with my amBi family at a cramped pizza joint, soaking in the good vibes of Pride and community. We discussed the day and compared highlights. We talked about our ideas for next year and how much we’ve grown in just a year.
The dance had already started and there were already people everywhere. So many people came up to me with their stories of being queer or being an ally and how much our inclusivity meant to them. So many of these people had faced discrimination, even in other LGBT+ groups, that they were hesitant about believing amBi was truly open to everyone, so long as they’re respectful.
Finally it was time to steal the microphone and official kick off the night’s celebration. I started off by greeting the audience and introducing myself and giving a brief description of what amBi was. I reminded the audience how honored I was to be able to sponsor Pride and be the reason we were even able to have it this year. I explained the significance of a bi group being the main sponsor for Pride and how much of a pleasure it was working with so many different types of people in the LGBT+ community and how they had all been so respectful to everyone I brought in from the bi community.
I introduced the first act, Miss Darby Doll, an incredibly talented burlesque dancer and amBi member. She has generously performed for our events previously and once again brought down the house. The audience loved her. She was followed up by the equally talented Debbie Dale, Maliena Bitchcock, and Bree Kuhns. All of the performers were great and it was so good to see the amazing talents of our community up on one stage. The party and night continued, the perfect conclusion to an amazing pride.
The entire weekend was a magical rainbow party. It was wonderful to feel such acceptance and love from the community and I was thrilled to be able to introduce Southern Oregon to my own loving community, amBi.