This article was written for the August 2011 newsletter by Kristin Carlson, Coordinator for Finding the Center & the Northwest Coalition for Human Rights.
What is Palouse Pride? Palouse Pride 2011 will take place from Saturday, August 6th to the following Saturday, August 13th in Moscow, ID. It features a variety of events—including a pride parade, an outdoor festival, a comedy night, and a drag show—to celebrate the sexual diversity of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community of the Palouse. People of all sexual orientations are welcome to attend the events and show support for Palouse Pride, which is organized through Inland Oasis, a Moscow-based group supporting educational, social and health programming for the LGBT community in southeastern Washington and north central Idaho.
In mid-July I interviewed Gordon Mellott, the Palouse Pride program director, who has worked with both the pride festival and Inland Oasis for the last six years. He provided insight into the history of Palouse Pride, how the event has grown, and what to expect from the 2011 festival, which he hopes will be the biggest Palouse Pride yet.
Palouse Pride History. Pride events started on the Palouse in the late nineties, with a small picnic in Moscow’s East City Park. The actual festival started around nine years ago, with a stage for entertainment and ten to twelve vendors in the park. Mellott came on board as a volunteer six years ago when Palouse Pride’s organizer dropped out two weeks before the festival. Since then, Mellott has worked with Inland Oasis to expand Palouse Pride and ensure its continuity from year to year.
The festival now takes place every summer the second week in August and seeks to grow to the point where it can fill a whole week with events. This year most of the events, including the pride parade and the festival in the park, are concentrated at the end of the week. Like Inland Oasis, the festival caters to Moscow-Pullman, Lewiston-Clarkston, and the smaller towns in their vicinity, but attendees hail from Spokane and the Tri-Cities as well. In past years people have also attended from Seattle and Salt Lake City.
Pride parades traditionally take place in late June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, which took place on Saturday, June 28, 1969 following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, NY. The Stonewall riots mark the first time in recent history that a significant number of LGBT people resisted arrest, and is often considered the start of the modern gay rights movement. Mellott explained Palouse Pride is held in August so it doesn’t compete with the bigger parades, which Palouse residents will travel to attend in places like Seattle. August is a good time because there aren’t many conflicting events and university students are starting to return to the area.
Improving on Palouse Pride: Organizing a Festival. Mellott cites the importance of Inland Oasis for the growing strength of the festival. The organization helped streamline Palouse Pride: now they re-use the same templates for their materials, their website, and their events every year. Mellott refers to this as “plug and play,” explaining that the system makes it easier when someone new takes over. Each year the festival approaches local businesses with a Palouse Pride packet, developed over the years to solicit and inform potential festival vendors. Mellott states, “there is no such thing as too long of a planning period.” Inland Oasis begins working on the August events when their board is elected each January.
Past planning committees have also increased the popularity of the festival by bringing in desirable performers. Three years ago previous festival chair Kathy Sprague started this trend by booking the Fabulous Kingpins, a popular Moscow band. Last year the committee focused on featuring drag troupes from Boise and the Tri-Cities. Sprague and her partner Tabitha Simmons are also behind the TabiKat Drag Show, another event featured at Palouse Pride. Simmons and Sprague own the Safari Pearl-Eclectica store in Moscow and have been producing monthly drag shows for Moscow-Pullman for over sixteen years. TabiKat is a significant part of LGBT history on the Palouse: in the absence of a gay bar, it is the only event in the area consistently providing safe entertainment for the LGBT community. It is also one of the only drag shows in the Northwest admitting an 18-and-over audience.
What to Expect from This Year’s Pride. This year Palouse Pride hired its biggest name yet, the drag queen Pandora Boxx. Boxx gained nationwide recognition when she appeared on the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a reality TV show in which drag queens compete for the title “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” Pandora Boxx will headline and emcee the Palouse Pride Comedy Show on Friday night, appear at the festival in East City Park on Saturday, and perform at the drag show Saturday night. Mellott explained these performances should have enormous appeal to the 18- to 20-year-old crowd, who can’t normally see famous drag queens due to the 21-and-up restrictions at most clubs.
Other performers for the weekend will include the drag troupes from Boise and the Tri-Cities who appeared last year, a local improv group called the White Ties, and Gordon Mellott as the drag queen Aquasha DeLusty. The Comedy Night will also feature Debbie Wooten, a comedian and diversity speaker who struggled with polio as a child, in addition to having a family plagued by poverty, abuse, and alcoholism. Palouse Pride kicks off on Saturday, August 6th (a weekend before the main events) with Drag Bingo, featuring PG-13 entertainment by local drag queens.
All are welcome to march in the Palouse Pride Parade, which starts at the Moscow Farmers Market and heads east on Third Street to East City Park (0.7 miles) on Saturday, August 13th. Mellott estimates the march will take forty-five minutes to an hour. People of all ages have participated in the past and many bring their children and walk their dogs. Some people dress up or carry signs, but it is not a requirement. The march is sidewalk-only, per Palouse Pride agreement with city officials, so marchers must stay out of the street and off lawns, and must obey traffic signals. Marchers will meet in Friendship Square in front of the fountain between 10:30 and 11:00am. The march is followed by the festival in East City Park from noon to 4:00pm. The festival offers live stage entertainment, a variety of vendors, a beer garden by Mikey’s Gyros, and a children’s area with art projects.
Year-Round Pride. When Palouse Pride week is over, Mellott suggests the best way to support the LGBT community year-round is to volunteer time and resources. There are several organizations on the Palouse that could use volunteers. Inland Oasis just moved to a new space in Moscow and needs volunteers to devote a few hours each week to sit at the center and provide information. Also, the Inland Oasis board is elected from community members who pay dues for the organization. Only $1/month is required, so anyone is free to participate in electing and serving on the board. Inland Oasis’s main program is their HIV testing service, which has run successfully for three years. They are now working on building a Youth Group, which will serve high school students and require responsible adult volunteers. Youth in the region have expressed interest in hearing coming out stories from volunteers in the LGBT community as part of the group’s activities. Contact Inland Oasis for information on volunteering.
A weekend pass to the Pride Festival will be $35 and includes the BBQ & Comedy Show, TabiKat Drag Show, and your official Palouse Pride 2011 t-shirt. T-shirts are $18 without the pass. Weekend passes, tickets to the drag show, and t-shirts can be purchased at Safari Pearl, 221 East 3rd Street, Moscow, ID.