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LGBTQ celebrates common ground

Rogue Valley Pride! will paint its annual celebration with not just every color of the rainbow this year, but also with blue.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, the Democratic nominee for the 2nd District congressional seat held by Republican Greg Walden, will be grand marshall at the Pride Parade. Based in Eastern Oregon, McLeod-Skinner is a former Phoenix city manager and former city councilor of Santa Clara, California.

“Jamie is openly gay and will be joined by her wife,” says Gina DuQuenne, founder and president of Southern Oregon Pride. “It will be a big draw for the parade this year. We’ll have a strong grand marshal, so we’ll have a strong presence.”

Back in 2010 when DuQuenne organized the first gay pride festival in Ashland, she chose October because Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day, she says. October also is LGBT History Month and National Bullying Prevention Month.

“I remember when so many young people were bullied (because of sexual identity) and killed themselves,” DuQunne says. “That really touched my heart.”

As the community event grew larger and more people wanted to participate, DuQuenne handed the festival’s torch to Evan Guadry of Lotus Rising Project.

The 2018 pride festival kicks off with a parade at 11 a.m. at Union Street and Siskiyou Boulevard. It will follow North Main Street to Lithia Park, where there will be speeches and performances at Butler Band Shell.

Parade entries include Oregon Cabaret Theatre, drag troupe Dancing Queens, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland High School’s Queer-Straight Alliance, Rogue Community College’s Rainbow Club, Southern Oregon University’s Queer Resource Center and more.

Marching band Samba Like It Hot will lead the parade with its high-energy drumming, says Julie Gillis, a Rogue Valley Pride! volunteer.

Drag queen Natasha Blackwell will emcee the live entertainment at Butler Band Shell in Lithia Park. Look for performances by Samba Like It Hot, Portland drag artist Selma, poet Rainy Wright Legg, and Greenhaus Drag Collective.

The live performances start at noon and run until 3 p.m. McLeod-Skinner will speak at 1:15 p.m.

Informational booths at the park include HIV Alliance, Family Solutions, Rogue Community Health, Jackson County Public Health, Love Connection, Jackson County Democrats, Castle Megastore, Siskiyou County AIDS Foundation and Unite Oregon, among others.

Look for good things to eat at Sultan’s Delight food truck and AuntieMama Cookies.

Speaking on behalf of Southern Oregon Pride, DuQuenne says strides this year for the LGBTQ community include education through collaborations with SOU’s Queer Resource Center, Ashland Rotary and the Ashland library.

“The political climate is pulling us in so many directions,” she says. “I want to show people the common ground that connects us. We talk about what Southern Oregon Pride and the university are doing in the community to educate and connect people. That’s what it’s all about.

“There’s more to do than pass same-sex marriage legislation. I think our biggest challenge is working with the transgender community. It’s a whole group of the LGBTQ community that’s been discounted. I feel a responsibility to have a conversation about our similarities. So many of them need help with doctors and attorneys they can feel comfortable with.”

Southern Oregon Pride works directly with SOU’s Queer Resource Center to let transgenders know they have a safe place. Open discussions, TransTalk, are held at 5:30 p.m. Mondays in Stevenson Union on the SOU campus, DuQuenne says.

On Thursday, Oct. 18, Ashland Rotary will host a panel discussion with Southern Oregon Pride about what the organization and the resource center have to offer.

“This will be the fifth year SO Pride has given a scholarship to an SOU student,” DuQuenne says. “SO Pride is out there, the resource center is out there, and our SOU scholarship is out there. Change can come about with education. It’s all about acceptance, not tolerance. I can’t stand that word.”

The Rogue Valley Pride! Celebration begins with a parade through downtown Ashland. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch