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

Salem residents this Saturday can start their morning with yoga, join a Pride march and enjoy queer comedy, drag performances and live music downtown. 

For over a decade, Salem has held its LGBTQ Pride event in August - rather than Pride Month in June - to avoid competing with bigger cities and encourage celebrating Pride year-round. 

The city now has the best of both as a new all-day event, Salem Pride, is set to debut Saturday in downtown Salem, on State Street between Liberty and Commercial Streets.

Aaron Naden, who works on the event’s planning committee, said organizers of Salem Pride intend to focus the event on celebration.

“We want to celebrate inclusivity and diversity in the Willamette Valley as a whole for the queer community,” he said.

Naden said he’s heard many Salem residents express their desire for a pride event during June. 

“We just wanted to offer that opportunity for the Salem area,” he said of Saturday’s event.

Naden said they don’t want to compete with Capital Pride, the city’s staple LGBTQ Pride event, which will have a booth at Salem Pride.

He said they spoke recently with organizers from Capital Pride about collaborating on a future, annual event starting next year. 

Capital Pride is also scheduled for Sept. 24 at Riverfront City Park Amphitheater. It started in 2001 and became a nonprofit in 2004, with the Capitol Forum and other organizers previously hosting Pride events in Salem. Zach Cardoso, president of Capital Pride, said this is the 44th year of Pride celebrations in Salem. 

 “We’re not trying to take over by any means,” Naden said. “I would love to get it in good hands and let it run.”

Salem Pride has been in the works for about two months. “We're excited to help do our part to bring the queer community together,” he said. “It’s closing a street off downtown, so that’s kind of a big deal just for visibility.”

There will be at least 30 booths, with around 10 nonprofits. Naden said the majority of retail and for-profit booths represent queer-owned small businesses. 

The day begins with yoga at 10 a.m. on the Salem Pride stage and in the street, followed by a Pride march at 11 and a kickoff event at 11:30. 

Performances of drag, comedy and music are slated to take place throughout the day.

There will be two rounds of drag performances and a third for open stage drag, in which people brought in by organizers will get their first chance to do drag in front of a crowd. 

Naden said he also hopes to work in the future with Keizer Pride. Organizers canceled their 2022 event due to safety concerns.

Keizer held its first-ever Pride event in June 2021, which attracted some protesters.

In a statement announcing the cancelation of this year’s event, organizers said members of a group called the “RV Saltshakesrs” drove up from the Rogue Valley to protest the event, snuck into the crowd and filmed the faces of unaware children and families. The group then doxxed organizers, according to the statement, posting personal information and a photo that included their children on the internet.

“As the organizer of this event, a queer, Black resident of Keizer, the parent of two trans youth, I do not feel that I can in good conscience risk exposing my beautiful queer community to any possible harm or hate,” the statement read. “I know that this is upsetting, and is a decision that I have been wrestling with for several months now, but I have nothing left to trust but my gut, and it’s telling me to pause.”

Naden said Salem Pride won’t be working with police for their event but hired Turtle Island Protection Services, which provides security that is queer-friendly. “There’s even queer people on the staff that will be our security for the day of the event,” he said.

Naden was born in Salem and lived in central Oregon for a couple of years with his husband, Clayton Riley, before they moved back in 2019. 

They are two of few queer business owners in downtown Salem, with Naden’s Capital Menswear in the Reed Opera House and Riley’s nearby Flowers in the Alley. 

“We have a heart for a downtown community and an involvement down here,” Naden said.

Full schedule (subject to change):

10:00 a.m. - Yoga

11:00 a.m. - Pride march

11:30 a.m. - Welcome/kickoff event

12:15 p.m. - Drag performances

1:00 p.m. - Comedy

1:30 p.m. - Open stage drag

2:00 p.m. - Audience participation event

2:30 p.m. - Cello performance by Tommy & Josh

3:00 p.m. - Comedy

3:30 p.m. - Drag performances

4:00 p.m. - Music by j e f f r i

4:30 p.m. - Comedy headliners

5:00 p.m. - End of event

Parking garages will be available near the event.

 Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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