When Helen Bonser and her friend Marion Hammer first went to talk to downtown business groups about having a gay pride march in Spokane, they got a slightly skeptical reaction.
“They looked at us two middle-aged business women and wondered what exactly it was we wanted to do,” Bonser said.
The two persevered, and on June 3, 1992, Bonser took the first step in the first Spokane Pride Parade with her two daughters.
“We made history that day,” Bonser said. “The 500 people that were there are the bravest people I know.”
On Saturday, Bonser will be the grand marshal of the 25th Pride Parade, which begins at noon and is followed by activities, food and music in the Gondola Meadows at Riverfront Park.
The theme for this year’s festival is: Pride 25 – From Silence to Celebration.
Michael Jepson, chair of Out Spokane, which organizes the Pride Festival, said this year the group set out to “rainbow the heck out of Spokane” and that led to the new Pride banners and flags flying from lampposts downtown.
“We are ridiculously happy that we were able to do that,” Jepson said, adding that Out Spokane is a small group of volunteers. “There really are just nine of us doing all this.”
Last year’s march had nearly 8,000 participants, Jepson said.
Bonser said the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community in Spokane is a very successful civil rights movement.
“We had been working since 1984, trying to help make our community safer,” Bonser said, adding that there were around 30 LGBTQ groups back then but most were underground.
In the first march, some walked with bags over their heads because they were afraid of being recognized.
Dean Lynch, former Spokane City Councilman and longtime LGBTQ rights activist said he remembers feeling great sadness that not everyone could march openly.
“We went under the Post Street skywalk and I looked up and there were several gay men, friends of mine who could not publicly march for fear of being identified and outed to their employers,” Lynch said.
Bonser said there were a lot of very violent threats against the first march.
“We weren’t afraid of the threats,” Bonser said, “we were afraid it wouldn’t turn out right.”
Today, no one covers their faces, Jepson said, but some still take a big step and come out as LGBT at the march.
“I think there may be safety in numbers,” Jepson said. “Last year, a 70-year-old woman and a 14-year-old girl came out at the march.”
Jepson and his Out Spokane volunteers are pulling the last details together for Saturday’s celebration. Among new activities, there will be an all-ages dance party from 6 to 10 p.m. and for the first time the festival concludes with fireworks.
“Fireworks seemed so pie in the sky,” Jepson said, “but it turned out it was totally doable. It will be great.”
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