Close to 100, rainbow-bedecked people walked from the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to Soldotna Creek Park Saturday afternoon as part of the Two Spirits Pride March and Celebration.
This is the second year for the event, held to raise awareness of and support for the area’s LGBTQ community. This year’s turnout was nearly double last year, and included LGBTQ people and allies. Meredith Harber, the pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna, marched carrying a sign saying, “This pastor believes you are a beloved child of God.”
“I come because I’m an ally and I believe that all people deserve love and acceptance for who they are. I think it’s important because, especially in a small community, it allows support and love to be shown to people that sometimes feel like you need to hide. And so this is a great public expression of an accepting place for all people in our community,” Harber said.
The event is organized by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s Youth Suicide Awareness Program, as well as volunteers from Kenai Peninsula College’s LGBT Alliance.
“The problem that we have here on the peninsula is there’s not a lot of gathering places, there’s not a lot of resources, there’s not a lot of opportunities for people to be in a safe space where they can be themselves,” said Tammie Willis, one of the event organizers. “Whether they be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer or questioning. So what was really important to us is that we be able to show, especially the LGBTQ youth that are coming up and are fearful or staying in the closet, that it’s OK to be yourself. It’s OK, we have safe spaces, we have other people who are like you and that we’re going to celebrate you.”
Last year’s event was just the march, and Willis said it was a bit of a letdown to get to the park and just be done. So this year they planned a celebration with vendors, food trucks, a DJ, dancing, a drag show and other activities, made possible by private donations and business sponsorships.
MacKenna and Payton said they enjoyed having the camaraderie and a place to hang out after the march.
“I think that we all came out, or at least me, because there’s not a lot of LGBT visibility in town and I think it’s important for LGBT youth and also people who are allies or just people who need to know about the community to know that they’re accepted and to know that we do have a community,” MacKenna said.
“It went well, I’m glad that we have the whole festival after this, though. We didn’t have this last year,” Payton said.
“That proves that the parade brings more visibility just the fact that it doubled in numbers this year,” MacKenna said.
They said they were a little nervous to participate, though.
“I mean, absolutely. It would kind of be naïve to not have concerns,” MacKenna said.
“I think in this area it is, I’d say, somewhat difficult to be in this,” Payton said.
“I would agree. I’m from California, so it’s really open-minded, and then coming here, it’s definitely different. But people are extra supportive within the community because of the anti-LGBT community,” MacKenna said.
Nine protesters stationed themselves on a corner of the Sterling Highway and K-Beach, then in front of Soldotna Creek Park as the march progressed. Passing motorists honked horns in support of the marchers, as well as the protestors.
Toby and Laura Burke were among the protestors, most carrying signs proclaiming that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
“We’re not here to condemn anyone but we are here to condemn an ideology that is not only just sinful, but it’s a great deception on people,” Toby Burke said. “It’s ultimately a harmful lifestyle, it goes against nature, it goes against natural law, and I think sometimes people need to stand up and say, ‘Hey, you know what, this is wrong.”
Though there were some ugly comments yelled from vehicles at the marchers along the route, the marchers passed the protesters peacefully. The only thing close to commotion was a group of women wearing “Free Mom Hugs” shirts and other supporters that stationed themselves in front of the protestors as the march passed by, and embraced anyone wanting a little love.
Willis said she hopes to see the event continue to grow.
“Come on out, show your support. Even if you don’t believe that the LGBTQ is the right way to go, we still love you still, we still want to see you out here and we’d love to have you support us,” Willis said.