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Southern Oregon Pride celebrates diversity

Southern Oregon Pride celebrates diversity and social acceptance with its annual Pride Festival in downtown Ashland, and this year's celebration promises to be bigger, better and more successful since Oregon's ban on gay marriage was lifted by a federal judge in May.

Many of the gay couples who've married since that date will march in Southern Oregon Pride's parade down North Main Street on Saturday, Oct. 11. They'll wave signs that read "Just Married" and include their wedding dates.

Gina DuQuenne, founder and president of Pride, and her partner of 16 years, Josh Willow, will be married the same day at the Butler Band Shell in Lithia Park.

"On Saturday, Oct. 11, Josh is going to make an honest woman of me," DuQuenne jokes. "There will be a float in the parade carrying an 8-foot-tall wedding cake, and all of the newlyweds will march around it."

The parade begins at 11 a.m. at Union Street and Siskiyou Boulevard and will follow North Main Street to Lithia Park for the wedding, live entertainment produced by Claudia Alick of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and about 20 food and artisan vendors.

The parade's grand marshal will be Janelle Wilson, executive director of Southern Oregon University's Queer Resource Center, and actor Peter Frechette, who is playing the role of Vice President Hubert Humphrey in OSF's production of "The Great Society," will be Honorary Grand Marshal. 

The festival will kick off with its annual dance from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St. There will be dancing to spins by DJ Hope, a cash bar, hors d'ouvres and a drag show. Tickets cost $15 in advance and can be purchased at Paddington Station, 125 E. Main St., and Love Revolution, 383 E. Main St. Tickets will cost $20 at the door.

"We're moving the dance back to the armory this year," DuQuenne says. "We held it at SOU last year, and it just wasn't big enough. The dance really is the best party of the year. It will also be host to my and Willow's engagement party."

Miss 2014 Southern Oregon Pride will be crowned at the party.

The 2014 Pride Drag Pageant will be held from 6 to 11 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, at Club 66, 1951 Ashland St. Admission is $5.

"The drag queens will be judged by their interviews, talent, gowns and a swimsuit contest," DuQuenne says. "It really is a lot of fun."

This is the fifth SO Pride Festival, and its downtown support has grown steadily.

"The festival brings so many visitors to Ashland that merchants are more than glad to let us post fliers. We celebrate that support and public awareness. The theme for this year's festival was going to be United We Stand, because we thought we would need to campaign for votes in the November election. Now we have so many people who've gotten legally married."

It's just the tip of the iceberg, DuQuenne says.

"There's still more work ahead of us. Young people are still hurting themselves because society, television programs make them believe that there is something wrong with them. Marriage equality is just a chip. We need to keep working for social awareness and protect young people."

This will be DuQuenne's final year as coordinator of SO Pride's event. She wants to pass the festival's torch on to younger people while she works on a deeper level for social equality. 

"We also believe in giving back to a community that has given so much to us," she says. 

Each year, SO Pride makes contributions to a local nonprofit organization. Last year, OSF's Daedalus Project was the recipient. This year, Peace House has been chosen.

The Southern Oregon Pride Parade marched through Ashland Saturday Oct. 13, in 2012. MT file photo