Last Saturday, the Ketchikan Pride Alliance held its annual Pride Picnic. It was a space for LGBTQ people to build community, celebrate and be visible during Pride Month.
Under the sun and out at Rotary Beach Park, community members gathered for Ketchikan’s annual Pride Picnic, chatting and laughing. On the grill were burgers and hot dogs, and on people’s faces were smiles.
It’s a much different scene than the first pride event, Ketchikan Pride Alliance President Sheen Davis said.
“The first one was had at a residence,” she said. “We’re all together and we’re all like, ‘Oh my gosh, don’t talk to anybody. Don’t let anybody know I was here.’ And you know, back seven, eight years ago, that was pretty much the attitude.”
And to Pride Alliance board member Ryan McHale, being outside is about more than the sunshine. It’s also about being and feeling seen.
“For us as a community, as a queer community, to be visible, to be outside, and to be together is super important,” he said, “because we exist here and our existence and our contributions to our community is meaningful.”
The Pride Picnic is also an opportunity for queer Ketchikan residents to build community. Lifelong local Austin Williams, who uses he and they pronouns, said he came to the picnic to connect with other queer people — as well as celebrate his intersecting identities.
Williams identifies as two-spirit, which is an identity specific to Indigenous peoples; he is Tlingit, and also honors his Paiute and Shoshone heritage.
“Two-Spirit to me is decolonizing myself and my queerness as well as being true to the Indigenous community within me,” they said. “Because before colonization here, we did have people that were in between genders, or were trans if the term is correct.”
It was also meaningful for Williams to represent the disabled community at the picnic, he said.
“Nobody knows that we’re here, and then also, we’re not always treated equally,” he said. “But knowing that I have friends here that understand me is really important.”
They said this is the third pride picnic they’ve attended, and that it is always nice to see old friends and meet new ones. Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic put the picnic on pause, but Williams said the sense of unity remains strong.
“I feel like the community is still very much together and still very much alive, despite not seeing each other or going out much this past year,” they said. “I feel very connected. And I feel very welcomed and I’m trying my best to put out the same energy.”
Though the annual picnic wasn’t held last pride month, it’s been about a year since more than 100 people protested outside a local shop that refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. Ketchikan Pride Alliance vice president JD Martin said that helped unify the queer community in Ketchikan — and eventually resulted in the passage of an ordinance that outlawed discrimination against LGBTQ people within city limits.
“Prior to that, I never felt like I couldn’t be myself, but I was still pretty cautious about it,” she said. “…I think that we’re seeing this big shift now of people who are much more comfortable being out, and really great allies have come to the table.”
But organizers say the work isn’t done. Davis, the Pride Alliance president, says she is pushing for a better future, one where people never feel like they need to hold a pride event away from the eyes of passersby.
“My position here as the president is moving forward with an organization, so that one day my grandchildren won’t have to make excuses, live in a closet, if they decide this is who they are,” she said. “That’s my purpose.”
So though Pride Month may be ending, Ketchikan Pride Alliance — and LGBTQ people in Ketchikan — will still be holding space and celebrating their identities year-round.