Nicole attended Capital Pride on Aug. 21, 2021. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

Nicole showed up at Salem's Pride celebration on Saturday not knowing quite what to expect.

She found she loved it and felt at home. “I’m having a great time at my first Pride event,” she said. “There are so many happy people. It’s just wonderful, and I’m so glad I came.” 

This was the intention, said Zach Cardoso, President of Salem Capital Pride, the organization that arranged the festivities. “Having Pride gives us a way to be visible and celebrate, to come together as a community and lift each other up,” he said. “It breaks down barriers that cause harm and violence in our community.” 

Many young people, queer or not, felt togetherness as they circled through the busy line of sponsors and agency booths, learning about services and support, picking up swag and enjoying baked goods from the bakery booth. Many sat in the open-air amphitheater, enjoying dynamic performances and talks, all interpreted in sign language.

Salem Reporter spoke with attendees and performers about what the day meant to them. Many, including Nichole, declined to give their full names, citing concerns about the ongoing hostility LGBTQ people face.

 Ell attended Capital Pride on Aug. 21, 2021. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

Among the booths was Ell, attending with her father, Juan, and sister. She was there, she said softly, for others.  

“Queer youth are very important. Many of my friends are in the closet, and I want to be here for those who aren’t allowed to come out today because other people won’t let them," she said. “Pride is so important to everybody. It matters so much to be honest about who you are.” 

Her father, Juan, agreed, saying he was there to show support for young people in crisis. “I came here to support my kids, and other kids who need it.”

One of the many performers of the day was Selina Kyle, the 42nd Ms. Gay Salem, who belted out several favorites from the amphitheater stage.

Selina Kyle attended Capital Pride on Aug. 21, 2021. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

Kyle spoke about the importance of the day for many in the LGBTQ community, and the opportunity to simply gather with each other in the open.

“This day allows us all to show our support for a minority community. We’re here to let people know they’re not alone," Kyle said.

It was also a rare chance to outreach to the larger community. “We're also here to let people know there’s more of us out here than they thought, and it’s okay to come out to play with us," Kyle said.

T-Mobile's Pride and Allies Team attended Capital Pride on Aug. 21, 2021. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

A Queer Art show is attached to the event. The show is now being displayed at Prisms Gallery on the second floor of the Reed Opera House.

The gallery’s Anji Davis, said the day was extraordinary, and so is the art show. “I look around today and am happy,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to have a space to be who you are, and have businesses who will accept you no matter who you are.”

Nan Brett, a HomeSmart realtor, gave away popular rainbow-colored bottles of bubbles. Nan said she enjoyed being out in the positive and supportive atmosphere.

Nan Brett attended Capital Pride on Aug. 21, 2021. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter) 

“I love working with the gay community because I am part of that community,” Brett said. “It’s very important that we support each other. It’s important to have these kind of events and to network here. I like the idea of working with ‘family’ in my business.” 

George of GLAPN, Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest provided powerful historical perspective to attendees. His group gathers and preserves articles, legislative papers and other historical records that document the struggles of LGBTQ citizens in the past.

George attended Capital Pride on Aug. 21, 2021. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter) 

“It’s important for everyone, when we celebrate the present to recognize that we have been through a lot," he said. “When this group started the movement back in 1970s Oregon – homosexuality was a crime. All of us need to understand the struggle we have gone through to obtain our human rights.” 

Several spoke about how those past challenges carry over even to today. In recent months Pride events in Keizer and Eugene were disrupted by hate groups that caused trauma and injury to those attending. 

The Capital Pride group wanted to be ready for them.

Heather Hawkins was included among those taking preemptive action. Hawkins is the founder of the Salem/Keizer Interfaith Network, a local association of clergypeople from many faiths. The network’s goal is a sense of community and acceptance for all.

 Heather Hawkins with Salem-Keizer Interfaith Network attended Capital Pride on Aug. 21, 2021. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter) 

“We are here today to show our love,” Hawkins said. “We feel it’s our responsibility to stand up to any religious group fueled by hate. So when other clergy come places with a message of hate, we want to be present with a message of hope and love and acceptance for our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.” 

Salem Capital Pride hired Turtle Island Protective Services to help out. Josue worked security that day. After several hours he said, “It doesn’t even feel like work, everyone’s so happy, so energetic.”

 Josue worked as security at Capital Pride on Aug. 21, 2021. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter)

“We just want to keep the peace here, that’s all we want,” he said. “I don’t know why anyone would want to disrupt the peace here.” 

The day went smoothly without disruptions, Cardoso said.

“When articles were published announcing our event, we got a bit of a negative reaction from people saying, “No one cares,” “Keep it in the bedroom,” and, “You’re ruining our park," Cardoso said. “Many fail to realize the oppression the queer community still faces. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community isn’t just about what happens in bedrooms. It’s about employment protections, healthcare, gender expression and just being able to exists in the world without additional barriers or threats.”

Given these ever-present pressures, it was an act of courage for many to even step into the park. It’s not a Pride event without a drag queen, Nichole Onoscopi, the 48th Miss Gay Oregon, rocked a statement rainbow dress while performing.

 Nicole Onoscopi attended Capital Pride on Aug. 21, 2021. (Helen Caswell/Special to Salem Reporter) 

“It’s so great to see the community get together and celebrate after being apart for so long,” she said. “We can be together in Pride and sharing. A day like this is a lovely reminder that we are not alone.”

Correction: This article originally misidentified performer Selina Kyle in a photo caption and text, and spelled Nicole's name incorrectly. Salem Reporter apologizes for the errors.

Writer Helen Caswell can be reached at [email protected]

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