Langley, South Whidbey residents come together during Whidbey Queer Pride Parade

An orange banner that read, “Standing on the side of love” seemed to embody the spirit of this year’s Whidbey Queer Pride Parade in Langley.

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island march in the 2016 Whidbey Queer Pride Parade.

An orange banner that read, “Standing on the side of love” seemed to embody the spirit of this year’s Whidbey Queer Pride Parade in Langley.

Scores of straight South Enders lined the streets voicing their support side-by-side with gay neighbors and friends sporting rainbow colors and slogans that promoted acceptance. Members of Langley United Methodist Church held a banner that read, “Open hearts, open minds, open doors,” only feet behind parade grand marshal Tara Hizon, an Oak Harbor city councilwoman. As Bayview resident Fred O’Neal said about Langley’s atmosphere on the day of the parade, progress is being made.

The third annual parade was more than a celebration of gay pride for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and queer/questioning) community, but also a show of togetherness from a town and communities that may be on the fringes elsewhere.

But that didn’t overshadow the lighthearted and confident nature of the parade. Bystanders applauded a participant in six-inch heels and a shirt that simply read “boss,” a drag queen wearing a gem-clad black corset and a bright red goatee received some whistles of appreciation from the crowd, and a young woman on stilts holding bright streamers towered over others as bubbles floated through the warm summer air.

“Truly, it’s one of the most joyful, most colorful events one would ever have the privilege of attending,” Hizon said. “My face still hurts from smiling so much.”

Queer Pride on Whidbey, the new moniker the festival operates under since turning into a three-day affair, fared well given the limited resources, according to co-organizer Kathryn Lynn Morgen. The festival is volunteer-based, and operated with a meager budget of $3,000. Morgen says two organizations were the chief donors who helped put on the weekend’s events: Whidbey PFLAG (Parents and families of Lesbians and Gays) and Ashbrier Farm in Clinton. She says the support shown by both the queer community and “straight allies” on Whidbey prove the positive standing the event has within the community.

“It shows this is something that people want,” Morgen said. “They want a space to go where they know they can be welcomed, celebrated, seen and acknowledged.”

Those in the parade spoke of how the Whidbey Queer Pride Parade stood out from other parades in large metro areas due to its more personal and community-centered nature. Clinton resident Joellen Elliot, who rode in the parade on top of her motorcycle, said the difference with Whidbey’s parade is the general feeling of the town supporting the LGBTQ community, rather than the queer community voicing support for itself. Hizon agreed, saying the small-town feel “personalizes it in a way that larger events simply can’t compete with.”

Prior to the parade, O’Neal spoke of South Whidbey’s progressive and accepting history through his personal experiences as a former board member of the South Whidbey School District and as a member of Langley United Methodist. For example, he says he was proud of his church when the ministers made a statement by marrying current City Councilman Bruce Allen and Jim Balkowitsch.

“I’ve been here since 1986, and it’s always been obvious to me from the beginning that the LGBT community has made important contributions to our community,” O’Neal said. “I think the more inclusive we can be, the stronger we are.”

By the expressions etched on the faces of parade participants, it seemed quite clear how much the pride weekend meant to the LGBT community, Morgen said. She said South Whidbey lacks dedicated gathering spaces for the LGBT community, so the weekend’s activities were filled with moments to savor. The atmosphere of a pride parade can be microcosm of a togetherness, and has convinced some to relocate to the island.

“I was out here and came to the first parade two years ago, I loved it, and I moved here,” Elliot said.

Morgen emphasized the success of the new youth component this year. An all-ages, open-mic night at Whidbey Children’s Theater was set up by an organizing committee composed of LGBT youth, and Morgen says the nice turnout made it a success. She says events like these encourage members of the LGBT community to be seen, and that’s what it’s all about for the organizers.

Whether in the parade or on the sidelines, straight or queer, South Whidbey residents were loud and clear on Sunday in their effort to highlight Langley’s accepting community. There were no protests or opposition visible during the parade, only smiling faces and open arms.

“I’ve been to pride parades from California to British Columbia, and Langley has been the sweetest one,” Elliot said.

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