ASHLAND — Southern Oregon Pride is anticipating its gay pride parade Saturday will nearly double in size over last year's inaugural event.
More than 1,000 people are expected to participate in the Ashland event and several hundred more likely will line the streets, said Deborah Rothschild, public relations director for SOPride.
"Last year, when we did this for the first time, we were just hoping someone would show up," she said. "It's going to be bigger and better this year."
Saturday's parade has 32 entries compared to 19 last year, when about 600 people marched down the parade route, said Rothschild. Many people spontaneously jumped into the parade from the sidewalks last year, she said, and the organization is expecting the same thing to happen this year.
The parade, part of SOPride's weekend-long Pride Festival, will begin at noon.
From East Main Street's intersection with Gresham Street, marchers will wind through downtown to the Butler Bandshell in Lithia Park. East Main Street and Winburn Way, and the streets surrounding the Plaza, will be closed during the parade, which should last about an hour.
Entertainment at the bandshell will include musical performances by Melissa Li and The Barely Theirs, and local political leaders and equal rights activists will address the crowd, said Rothschild.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Beth Coye, a longtime advocate for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," will serve as grand marshal for the festival.
"I'm honored," said Coye. "I love Ashland as a community, and I'm excited for the chance to be in the parade ... it's going to be great coming fresh off the repeal."
Ashland Mayor John Stromberg will serve as honorary grand marshal. Rothschild said SOPride offered the position to Stromberg in recognition of the city's sponsorship of the festival.
"It's going to be a fabulous time and a chance for the community to understand that the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) community is much bigger than what they think," said Rothschild. "It is their teachers, lawyers, police officers, friends, brothers and sisters ... it can be anyone and everyone."
The theme of this year's festival is "We Are All Family." It begins at 7 p.m. Friday with the SOPride Kickoff Party at the Historic Ashland Armory. KISS FM Radio's disk jockey Hope will spin the music, and entertainment will include a performance by The Queens of the Night and a drag show by Diamond's Divas. Tickets cost $20, $10 for students and seniors, and can be purchased in advance at Paddington Station or the Music Coop in Ashland.
Saturday's celebration will include vendor booths in the Plaza from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and conclude with a special Green Show performance by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. That show, which begins at 6:45 p.m. in front of OSF's Angus Bowmer Theater, will pay tribute to famous gay musicians.
The festival will continue Sunday when the Gay Men's Choir joins in worship at the Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ service at 10 a.m. A free two-hour workshop will follow at 1:30 p.m. It will provide tips for how teachers, parents and other people who work with kids can support youths who may identify as gay or transgender.
"It's a weekend about equality, acceptance, understanding and, really, education," Rothschild said. "Once people understand that GLBT people are all around then, they begin to understand that a person's sexual orientation is just a small part of a person, not the defining piece of a person."
Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler can be reached at 541-499-1470 or email email@example.com.