There was never such a colorful display of exuberant individuals parading down the street Saturday as Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” radiated fearlessness through the hearts of the crowd.
Ashland’s 2011 Pride Parade drew about thirty floats and over a thousand marchers, as the community dedicated their wares, time and support to reinforce this year’s theme, “We Are All Family.” The parade went from noon to 1:00 p.m. down Main Street, followed by music and festivities at Lithia Park from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.. This year the parade was held at the beginning of Gay Awareness Week, said Gwin DeMatteo, vice president of Southern Oregon Pride. The festivities came during a time of healing, opening a conversation about recent teen suicides as a result of bullying. The time seemed impeccable in bringing these tragic events to light.
Among the many intriguing individuals partaking in the Pride Celebration was performer, Ryan Cassata, 17, who has travelled all over the country, appeared on television, and is an advocate for equal rights of the transgender community. “I love to make people happy, and take them away for a second through my music”, he told me. He also bravely sang an original song in memorial of these events.
In the midst of undeniably flamboyant costumes, crazy colors, and fearless drag queens, the essential purpose of the Gay Pride Celebration is simple.
“I feel like our pride exemplifies that we are family,” says Kevin Tomita, 21, staff manager of the Queer Resource Center at SOU. “I want everyone to know that queers are people like everyone else; we love, we have families, we have fun … we’re normal people!”
With just as much vigor, Janelle Wilson, QRC Coordinator said Southern Oregon University proudly sponsors SOPride, launching its own float in the parade. “ It’s a good reflection of our school values. We’re supporting people for being who they are as well as helping them figure it out along the way,” Wilson said.
After last year’s festivities, some community members expressed that the celebration might be too much for children, denying Southern Oregon Pride participation in last year’s Pear Blossom Parade claiming the entry “didn’t quite fit the annual family affair. SOPride was later allowed to participate in the parade.
Ashland parent, Maria Baptiste, 41, who was at the parade with her small son, disagreed with the Pear Blossom organizer’s opinion. “I think its great to expose my child to this because I want him to love everyone, and I believe that’s how everyone should think”, she responded wholeheartedly,” she said.
Ashland’s reputation for positivity and generosity radiated throughout town in the smiles and laughter of all who participated as the music faded away, the memories lasting a lifetime.