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Fear Takes A Holiday Finding Safety In Numbers, 1,000 Participate In Gay Pride March In Spokane

They were not silent, they were not invisible and - for a while at least - fear retreated before their advance.

More than 1,000 people participated in the sixth-annual Gay Pride March through downtown Spokane on Sunday.

Under a sunburning sky, marchers waved rainbow-colored flags, carried bundles of balloons and chanted, “We’re here. We’re queer. We’re fabulous. Get used to it.”

“It is a time to be with friends and have fun,” said Deena Romoff, who wore a rhinestone crown and carried a tambourine. “There is a lot to celebrate in being different.”

Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, their friends and families turned out for the march, which started east of the Spokane Arena and ended at Riverfront Park with a lawn party.

For many, the march was a chance to affirm their identity in the security of a group. A chance to put the fear of harm and ridicule at arm’s length for an afternoon.

“When you are in a big crowd, you feel safe, but when you are alone, it is different,” said a woman who was happy to be a face in the crowd but not a name in print.

After her first march, she had found her face in the newspaper the next day. “I was mortified, depressed and very freaked out. It is an awful feeling being outed against your will,” she said. “The next year, I didn’t go.”

But she came back to the march, taking her own personal step forward in dealing with fear.

“I feel like even though I have fear, I need to be here to be an honest person,” she said.

Romoff said that on parade day, “you get to have a real life, like everyone else gets to have a real life.”

“It is a time to let the community know we are here and not slinking around,” she said.

A lone protester waited for marchers as they made their way into Riverfront Park at the end of the walk.

He was in his mid-20s, had forearms like fire hoses and held a sign the size of a small sail: “Only Jesus saves sinners from hell.”

He would not give his name or say where he was from, but it was not Spokane. Protesting gay marches is an occupation that keeps him on the road, he said.

“Can we keep this brief?” he said when asked for an interview.

Despite his yelling, he didn’t draw much of a response and floated around the perimeter of the celebration for the rest of the afternoon.

To Connie Steiger, a march organizer, the Bible-toting demonstrator was only a minor distraction. She was pleased with the march - which she estimated to have been about the size of last year’s - and pleased with the celebration in the park.

Around her, people were settling down to listen to music, kids were playing on the grass and dogs were tangling their owners in leashes. It looked like just another party in the park.

“We don’t want confrontation,” Steiger said. “It’s a day to have fun for us. It’s a day to come down to the park, kick back and be who you are.”

Asked if she would like every day to be this way, Steiger answered, “It would be nice.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo