(Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the name of organizer Tammie Willis, who was identified as Tammie Wilson).
The central peninsula may have a smaller population than Anchorage or Juneau, but it’s still a community with a lot of Pride. This Saturday, nearly 100 people showed up to the Soldotna Sports Complex and Soldotna Creek Park for the second annual Two Spirit Pride March and Celebration. The event, which aimed to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community, commemorated the June 28, 1969 New York City Stonewall Riots that marked the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
Last year was the first time a Pride March was held in Soldotna. That event was organized by Audre Gifford with the Kenaitze Tribe’s Yinihugheltani — Youth Suicide Awareness Program — as well as Leslie Byrd and Tammie Willis with the Kenai Peninsula College’s LGBT Alliance. The organizers said they weren’t sure how successful the first event would be, but their anxieties were put to rest when almost 60 people showed up to the first march. Last year’s event consisted of only a march, and its success motivated the organizers to go for something bigger this year.
“The only problem was that we showed up to the park and everyone was like, ‘now what?’” Willis said on Saturday. “So this year we wanted to set up an event afterwards where, at least for a day, we all have a chance to be ourselves.”
Thanks to sponsorships from local businesses, as well as individual donations, Soldotna Pride in the Park featured local artisans, vendors and food trucks all showing their support and showcasing their wares for Soldotna’s LGBTQ community and its allies. Byrd said that one donor even paid for gas money so that two Anchorage drag queens, Mrs. Sativa and Salmon Chowder, could come down to the peninsula and put on a drag show. The Pride celebration ended with a “So You Want to be a Drag Queen” pageant, in which participants could put on costumes and makeup and show off their looks.
Michelle Vasquez, who has participated in the march twice now, said the event had an even bigger turnout than last year — and that included a few protesters this time around.
“There were a few people holding signs across the street, maybe six or seven, but they didn’t yell or say anything to us,” Vasquez said. “Basically, we just ignored them and did our own thing.”
Julien Jolivette is from Wasilla and came to Soldotna to participate in the march on behalf of Identity, an LGBTQ advocacy group in the state.
“The turnout was fantastic, and the experience was very intimate for a lot of people,” Jolivette said. “There was a young lady walking behind me who said she didn’t know if she’d ever been happier or felt more welcome.”
Jolivette said that a number of drivers honked their horns and cheered as the marchers walked down Kalifornsky Beach Road.
Thanks to the financial support from the community, Byrd was also able to acquire a shuttle for the day, and periodically drove marchers back to their vehicles at the Soldotna Sports Complex.
Byrd said that because of the contributions from the community, she and the other organizers already have some seed money to put toward next year’s event.
“This is all a grassroots effort, so all the support from the community is really encouraging,” Byrd said. “Our goal is to show people in the LGBTQ community that they’re not alone, and I think we’re succeeding.”