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Free to be

Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and others will show their colors during the third annual Southern Oregon Pride Festival in downtown Ashland.

The annual Pride Parade — with the support of grand marshal Kate Brown, honorary grand marshal Sylvia Guerrero and groups representing the Rogue Valley Universalist Unitarian Fellowship and Havurah Shir Hadash — will celebrate diversity with the theme "Free to Be ... You and Me" at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 13.

"We'll even have a group called Mormons for Marriage Equality," says Gina DuQuenne, the event's founder and organizer. "We also have the Jackson County Democrats ... but the Republicans won't get on board."

The parade will follow East Main Street to Lithia Park where there will be food, vendor booths and live music by The Rogue Suspects, Rogue Valley Peace Choir and Women with Wings at the Butler Band Shell.

The Southern Oregon Pride Festival, which emerged from meager beginnings in 2010, has become bigger with each passing year — drawing participants and visitors from around the region.

"The buzz starts near the end of September," DuQuenne says. "We see our website and Facebook page swell with hits. People are excited. They want to know how to get involved."

DuQuenne says the initial response to the first event surprised her.

"I thought we'd get about 10 people," she says. "When about 15 different groups called to participate, I was amazed."

It wasn't just a group of people dressed in all colors of the rainbow and flaunting themselves along the street, she says. It was a gathering of people in solidarity.

"Sure, we had some people wearing tutus," DuQuenne says. "We also had professional people carrying handmade signs that read 'I'm a doctor,' 'I'm a veterinarian' and 'I'm a nurse.' We had moms and dads.

"It's turned into an opportunity to celebrate personal freedom. It's great to see gay and lesbian couples holding hands, hugging and kissing ... and having it be OK. When you are gay or lesbian, you have to live two lives: one in which you are closeted and one in which you can just be yourself."

The Pride Festival's dance bash will be from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St. Look for a drag show with colorfully dressed, flamboyant queens posing as such celebrities as Judy Garland and Lady Gaga, deejays Hope and Gemineye of KISS FM spinning music for dancing, a no-host bar and hors d'ouvres by Larks restaurant at the Ashland Springs Hotel.

Advance tickets for the dance party cost $20, $10 for students and seniors, and are available at Paddington Station in Ashland. Tickets will cost $25, $15 for students and seniors at the door. See www.sopride.org for information.

Alonzo Moore marches through downtown Ashland during the 2011 Southern Oregon Pride parade. - Photo by Jamie Lusch