Salem Capital Pride's logo

Zach Cardoso wants Salem’s LGBTQ residents to be proud of who they are all year long.

Cardoso, who chairs the board of Salem’s Capital Pride, said that’s one reason the nonprofit has traditionally hosted its LGBTQ pride event in August, two months after most cities.

“We shouldn’t just relegate ourselves to being proud of who we are in June,” he said, referring to gay pride month.

After moving to a virtual event last summer, Pride returns to Riverfront Park, 200 Water St. N.E., this Saturday, Aug. 21. It’s being organized by an all-new board, who stepped into their roles after Capital Pride’s longtime organizers decided they were ready to retire following the 2019 event, Cardoso said.

The event begins at 8 a.m. at the park carousel with a fun run or walk open to people of all ages and skill levels. Runners will cover a five mile route and walkers will go five kilometers, about three miles. Participants are encouraged to wear rainbow or other colorful items, and people can also register to cheer on runners and walkers. Participants must preregister using the form here.

Cardoso said originally, Capital Pride organizers planned to just hold the run and walk because they were unsure what Covid restrictions would look like. But the event now includes several hours of performances at the new park amphitheater and a vendor area where people can buy items from LGBTQ-owned businesses in the Salem area and visit booths run by sponsors and nonprofit organizations.

About a dozen vendors are signed up, Cardoso said.

“We do want to be able to provide that for our queer vendors and have that be a way they can contribute to their income,” he said.

Performances onstage will run from 10 a.m. to about 2 p.m. Plans include multiple drag performers, including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, as well as a Zumba class, a comedian and an open mic hour where any attendee can sign up to speak. The event will be family-friendly, Cardoso said.

Food trucks will be available and face masks are on hand for those who want them, including a limited number with various Pride flag designs, purchased with a Travel Oregon grant.

One goal of this year’s event is to help LGBTQ people connect with each other for social activities and hobbies. Cardoso recalled working the information booth at Salem’s Pride in 2019 and having an older man who had recently come out as gay stop by.

The man told Cardoso, “I don’t have any gay friends and I want to.”

Cardoso saw a need to help LGBTQ people meet one another in Salem, which has few dedicated community spaces or organizations for LGBTQ residents. This year, the vendor area will include a tent where attendees can sign up for email lists for specific hobbies like gardening, running and writing and meet other LGBTQ people who share their interests.

“I don’t know what other people are interested in - I just made lists of what I’m interested in but we’ll have a couple blank sheets,” Cardoso said.

Keizer held its first-ever Pride event in June, attracting some protestors. Cardoso said he’s hopeful the Salem event won’t draw violence or controversy, but there will be security on hand.

“We do have four guards there to help with any de-escalation if needed and just kind of keep our event calm and safe,” he said. “We’re preparing for it but hoping that it doesn’t happen.”

The August date is also a practical consideration for a city Salem’s size. Cardoso said it means Salem isn’t competing with larger cities like Portland or Seattle for performers and attendees who might travel.

Eventually, Cardoso said Capital Pride aspires to hold regular events year-round in Salem. The board hopes to do something for National Coming Out Day in October, but hasn’t yet planned the specifics.

Capital Pride is also seeking more board members to help, particularly transgender people and people of color, Cardoso said. For more information about joining the board or Saturday’s event, visit the Capital Pride website.

Correction: This article originally misstated the source of the grant to cover masks. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241. 

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