Out of the Closet, Into the Park: Bend celebrates 10th annual LGBT Pride

By Erin Rook, Source Weekly

In 2005, about a dozen people gathered at McKay Park for the first ever LGBT Pride celebration in Bend. It was a modest affair—more family picnic than public spectacle. But a first step, none the less. Members of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community were just starting to step out of their roomy, walk-in closets (restrictive, but room for friends) and into the community at-large.

“Overall, it felt very brave because it was a public park,” says Cliff Cook, who attended that first event and chairs the organizing committee for Saturday’s 10th Annual Central Oregon Pride. “There was a great deal of caution still.”

It was an era, Cook says, when assaults against gay men in bars and even public parks were recent and frequent enough to make people fearful. But the tide was starting to turn. Just a year earlier, in May 2004, Bend City Council approved, after much debate, an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

So the 2005 event was really the first opportunity LGBT people in Bend had to celebrate Pride without having to worry about losing housing or a job, or being kicked out of a public place.

“I really believe the LGBT community was trying to do things more openly,” Cook says.

From the 1970s through much of the 1990s, Cook says, the LGBT community held most of its gatherings at the Funny Farm—a quirky property north of Bend owned by a gay couple. When they stopped hosting events, the community had to look elsewhere.

“I think it was an impetus for the gay community to begin looking inwardly and asking, ‘Why aren’t we able to do what we want to do?'” Cook explains.

While the festival was slow to start, it gradually grew and hit its stride in 2012, when it moved to Riverbend Park and attracted an estimated 500 attendees. The following year, organizers moved the event to Drake Park, where it swelled to more than 1,000. For the 10th annual, Cook says he’s expecting up to 1,500.

This year will be the second at Bend’s premier park and the first that the festival has billed itself as Central Oregon Pride, rather than a Bend-centric event. This change reflects the growing LGBT population in the smaller cities and towns neighboring Bend.

“Central Oregon is unique,” Cook says. “We have about eight communities and three counties. I think it is important to acknowledge all our LGBT friends in those communities.”

But that’s not the only first revelers will be celebrating this year. It will be the first Pride since same-sex couples in Oregon won the right to marry. It will also be the inaugural visit for a few out-of-town acts.

“This is the first time we’re having [Portland drag celebrity] Poison Waters at Pride. For [the Human Dignity Coalition’s] annual drag show fundraising event, she easily draws 150-200 people,” Cook says. “I think the entertainment is going to be the highlight.”

Also making an appearance from Portland are singer-songwriter Jeremiah Clark and the Portland Chapter of Dykes on Bikes—basically a badass gang of (mostly) lady bikers. The festival will also feature entertainment from local favorite MOsley WOtta and his band, Jenni Peskin, Strive Roots Band, Noah Stroup and ShapeShifter Belly Dance.

“You can’t beat MOsley WOtta and his band,” Cook says. “He’s been in our last few Prides.”

In addition to entertainment, the festival will feature community booths and vendors from across the state, a beer and liquor garden, and a children’s activity area. The event is free and all-ages.

Central Oregon Pride

June 28, Drake Park

Emcee: Chelsea Woodmansee

Noon Recorded music provided by MIX 100.7 FM

12:30 pm Welcome & Opening Ceremony

12:40 pm Dykes on Bikes®

12:45 pm Noah Stroup, Singer/Songwriter

1:15 pm Jenni Peskin & Student Show Case

2 pm ShapeShifter, Belly Dance Troupe

2:15 pm Jeremiah Clark, Singer/Songwriter

2:45 pm “Love is in the Air” Wedding Celebration

3 pm Poison Waters & Friends

4 pm MOsley WOtta & Band

5 pm Strive Roots Band