A letter to the community from Pride NW about parade route controversy

Parade route controversy…at least we’re not in a kerfuffle over taping the streets right? (Oh damn, that big Rose Fest parade is this weekend isn’t it? I won’t be anywhere near downtown…)

An Open Letter to the LGBTQ community from the President of Pride Northwest:

Questions continue to be raised about the intentions, responsiveness and decision-making process of the Board of Pride Northwest.  Since we are responsible to the entire community for our actions, we feel a need to answer these questions in a public forum, directly and, we hope, definitively.

One of the greatest misperceptions about Pride Northwest is that we make closed-door decisions that ignore the community will. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your feedback is key to our development as a community-based organization.  We have listened for four years to a community that has felt abandoned by Pride, to other community organizations who felt no connection to Pride; to the marginalized communities within the larger LGBTQ community who have been searching for a voice with which to make their presence and needs known; all while still respecting and celebrating our diversity. Yes, we have been listening, and we are proud of the decisions we have made as a result.

Two years ago, for example, a few members of the community complained about our decision to restrict smoking on the festival grounds at the waterfront. In making that decision, we were responding to the serious concerns of our youth and non-smokers, including families, who objected to the health risks of exposure to second-hand smoke. That risk has been well documented and we believe it was the right thing to do for our community even in an outdoor venue.

One recent decision that has garnered some publicity concerns the changing parade route. We understand the confusion the community experienced when first one new route was announced, and then a modified version was announced a short time later.  As we stated to the media there were both internal and external reasons for this change.

Externally, the city has established certain policies regarding the permitting process that we are required to follow. Much to our surprise, these policies did not favor the new route that, based upon a preliminary approval by the City, we announced in March. We were not made aware of these policies at the time, nor did the City inform us of them until after the announcement had been made. As a result we were required to shift the route again slightly, from Stark Street to Burnside. We do not think that change to be all that significant, especially as the Parade will now travel down the major East/West artery of the city and the businesses on Stark Street can continue to have their block party, which generates revenue for struggling businesses during this touch economy.

Internally, we had good reasons to change the route back to Stark Street, which we have shared publicly and will restate here. First, however, some history. The traditional parade route went down Stark Street for many years, through the heart of the LGBTQ community. The previous route was changed in 2005 by the will of the acting board at that time to create the shortest most visible route possible. Some folks with disabilities voiced concerns that the route for the parade was too long, making it difficult for them to participate. Also, a community partnership was formed with the businesses on Stark Street in order to allow them a block party while shortening the parade route. As much thought and consideration went into changing the route in 2005 as has taken place in 2010.

Some people in our community have stated that marching past Pioneer Courthouse Square provides an opportunity to challenge the notions of those outside our community about who we are, as a community; that moving back to our historical roots is akin to going back into the closet. It makes us wonder for whose benefit these critics think we operate the parade and festival. Yes, it is partly to educate our straight neighbors, but it is first and foremost a community celebration for us by us to which we invite the rest of the city. Pride is not about what “they” think of us, it’s about what we think of ourselves. In the opinion of the current board, having the parade on one street or another should not determine our opinion of who we are as a community.

When we thought about the implications of this year’s theme, “Pride to the People,” we knew we wanted the parade route to reflect where the community actually lives, works and plays.  The new route expresses a commitment to bring the parade past our businesses and recreational venues. The new route invites the city to come see how we live right now. We would rather showcase the neighborhoods downtown where the community resides, drawing attention to the reality of our lives, than commit scarce resources to maintaining a “show” of visibility. Visibility is about more than parade floats once a year; it is about being present in neighborhoods, businesses, the arts and community organizations every day of the year.

We have also stated that one of our motivations for moving away from Pioneer Square was a desire to maintain or lower our costs, and with good reason. We are committed to adroit financial management of the funds entrusted us by the community. In these tight fiscal times, when many non-profits are struggling, Pride Northwest is one of the few non-profit, volunteer-run Pride organizations to remain financially sound. The money that we saved by moving away from Pioneer Square has already been reinvested to help other LGBTQ organizations working to better our community.

Some of the organizations and efforts that we have financially supported in recent years include Portland Latino Gay Pride (La Lucha!), Black Pride, the Trans March and Dyke March, the Q Center, The Gender Free for All, Our House of Portland, Basic Rights Oregon, the Elder Resource Alliance, Deaf and Hearing Outreach, the HIV Day Center, and the Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center (not a complete list). This year we have chosen to also assist the “Bridges to Independence” organizers as they struggle to provide unique services to LGBTQ people with developmental disabilities, and to honor the contribution of Native American “Two-Spirit” people. We were also major sponsors of the first ever Oregon Queer Youth Summit, a statewide queer youth empowerment partnership between SMYRC and the Safe Schools and Community Coalition. Though our Pride 365 initiative, we will continue to seek out opportunities to recognize, support, and celebrate the broad diversity of our community, in keeping with our mission.

We would like to end with a statement of the values that guide all of our decision-making, and let the community judge whether or not these are the correct priorities for Pride Northwest.  We welcome your feedback at our open Board Meetings and your active participation in the organization.

As an organization, we are committed to:

  • Social justice and making organizational, fiscal, and social choices that enhance the lives of those in the LGBTQ and Allied communities of Portland, of diverse background;
  • A free and accessible, donation-based festival;
  • Diversity in the selection of speakers, entertainers, and award recipients;
  • Diversity in our sponsorships, partnerships, volunteers and hiring process;
  • Deficit-free budgeting to ensure our financial stability and integrity;
  • All-volunteer and diverse Board of Directors;
  • An open meeting structure to which all community members are invited to participate and to voice their concerns and suggestions;
  • Avoidance of taking an official stand on issues that may divide our community in any meaningful way. The organization and celebration of Pride is unique in that we are expected to represent and speak to the full spectrum of our community;
  • Working to advance the status of traditionally disenfranchised or underrepresented groups within the LGBTQ community;
  • Support first and foremost for  local LGBTQ and Allied vendors and businesses;
  • Outreach to and partnership with community organizations committed to the equality and betterment of the LGBTQ and Allied communities;
  • A unified queer community that is free of bias or discrimination in which all people are valued and respected.

Thank you for listening.

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