Oregon Cultural Trust

Hillsboro Pride Party: A rainbow rises

During Pride Month, Oregon's fifth largest city celebrates openness and diversity amid recognition that the quest to overcome fear and repression is far from over.

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Mix and match: A pair of happy lineups at the Hillsboro Pride celebration.
Mix and match: A pair of happy lineups at the Hillsboro Pride celebration.


Story by BRETT CAMPBELL
Photos by JOE CANTRELL


Since Pride celebrations started in 1970, they’ve understandably been primarily an occasion for our LGBTQ+ neighbors to celebrate the accomplishments of their community, and to take pride in being who they are, without fear of or apology to the dominant heterosexual culture. 

For non-queer allies like me, they’ve been a chance to show our support as well as to join the celebration — even though, like everything else in capitalist society, they’ve also been exploited for corporate gain. Those of us in the arts especially appreciate and honor our queer creators, who, all out of proportion to their numbers, have brought so much beauty to humanity throughout history. 

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You can see that celebratory — we might even call it gay — spirit in Joe Cantrell’s photos of this year’s Hillsboro Pride Party, part of the city’s Pride Month celebration. And as usual, I felt a touch of it this time, too, along with a sense of solidarity, connection, all the warm feelings. It was heartening to see so much official support from my city of Hillsboro, including police officers boogieing to “I Will Survive” and other classic anthems spun by drag queen DJs. I checked out booths from the two dozen-plus community nonprofit organizations doing such important, valuable work, including social services groups, business organizations, even the police.

A day for peace and celebration and smiles a mile wide ...
A day for peace and celebration and smiles a mile wide …
... and for a little brightness and dazzle from the celebrated drag star Poison Waters.
… and for a little brightness and dazzle from the celebrated drag star Poison Waters.

Rainbow raiment was everywhere! I was especially impressed at the number of young families (queer and otherwise) and kids enjoying the supportive vibe, and how sweetly Poison Waters and the other drag queens encouraged them to dance along. I even smiled at the colorful costumes – including rainbow tutus — worn by the many pooches and kiddos who, unlike so many of us supposedly grown-up humans, didn’t worry about the gender identity of those offering them affection, just responding affectionately in kind. 

… a day of identifying for yourself, not for somebody else’s expectations.

No Rain — No Rainbows

But this time, I also felt something else.

Maybe it was the overcast skies, which metaphorically reflected the recent backlash against queer people, including those here in Oregon, that’s been troubling me and many others. For years, it’s been possible for some to dismiss these dispiriting, dangerous, even deadly attacks as the actions of a few haters, bad apples. But then what are we to make of the current wave of legislative assaults on civil rights perpetrated in the name of the public, by their elected representatives? The state sponsored lawsuits that seek to perpetuate trans and other nonbinary Americans’ status as second class citizens? Those darker thoughts intruded amid the warmth and color surrounding me at Orenco Station Plaza.

... a day for meeting and greeting ...
… a day for meeting and greeting …

(I can’t let the opportunity go by to shout out the great Hannah Gadsby’s explanation at her Keller auditorium show last week of why she resists that term: “The term nonbinary distresses me,” she said approximately, “because to define yourself by something you are not is the cornerstone of binary thinking.”) 

The forces of greed, repression, domination and hate always need a fake villain to scare otherwise good people into supporting them, and queer people have always made convenient scapegoats, along with Jews, immigrants, and all the rest. 

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Why do you think so many organizations helping with family violence, homelessness and home instability, suicide prevention and similar issues were represented at a party? Because sadly, homophobia has made queer people especially vulnerable to suicide, family rejection, and other problems. I was glad to see those groups represented, but the implications of their presence cast a shadow.

... a day for catching rainbow bubbles ...
… a day for catching rainbow bubbles …
... and a day for taking a rainbow stroll through the park with your pups.
… and a day for taking a rainbow stroll through the park with your pups.

So as much as I wanted this Pride Party to represent an uncomplicated celebration of equality and acceptance, it’s impossible even for straight people to ignore the fact that we’re not there yet. In fact, as we saw in the wake of the Black Lives Matter marches that now seem so far away, recent victories have sparked a backlash from those who’d exploit fear of difference for political gain. In my bleakest moments, it makes me wonder whether we’ll always have to keep pushing, getting knocked down, and getting back up to push again and again.  

... a day to meet and greet and make alliances ...
… a day to meet and greet and make alliances …

… a day for reaching out and taking pride …

... a day to celebrate with friends and perhaps make new ones ...
… a day to celebrate with friends and perhaps make new ones …

Yet maybe the fact that we still have a long way to go to reach genuine equality makes Pride celebrations even more urgent. For Americans who’ve struggled for lifetimes, generations against oppression, celebrating who they are — the part of them that has drawn so much hatred, fear, discrimination — Pride celebrations aren’t just fun. They’re necessary, a life-affirming antidote to fear, self-loathing, and all the other ills produced by homophobia and transphobia and the rest — including discouragement over the current backlash.

And for all of us, including allies, they offer a glimpse into how beautiful a future of celebrating our differences — e pluribus unum and all that — can be. Cantrell’s evocative photos provide a window to that hoped-for tomorrow. 

... a day for bright and shining colors, everywhere ...
… a day for bright and shining colors, everywhere …

As I boarded the Max home from the party, skies beginning to clear, I finally figured out what I was feeling, that emotion that wasn’t quite untrammeled joy (too much worry for that) but wasn’t disappointment, either. I thought about my many neighbors — straight, gay, everything in between and around — coming together to share our joy at our community’s diversity. 

I realize that one party, one day, one week, one month of celebration and rainbows doesn’t make up for centuries of ongoing hatred and discrimination. Aggressions micro and macro are happening every day, including in Oregon. Yet I couldn’t help but feel a brief moment of gratitude at being fortunate enough to be part of a community that could come together to celebrate all of us, in all our differences. Or, in a word: pride.

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... and a day of beginning to create a fresh and better tomorrow.
… and a day of beginning to create a fresh and better tomorrow.

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Hillsboro Pride Month events and resources.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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Brett Campbell is a frequent contributor to The Oregonian, San Francisco Classical Voice, Oregon Quarterly, and Oregon Humanities. He has been classical music editor at Willamette Week, music columnist for Eugene Weekly, and West Coast performing arts contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal, and has also written for Portland Monthly, West: The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Salon, Musical America and many other publications. He is a former editor of Oregon Quarterly and The Texas Observer, a recipient of arts journalism fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (Columbia University), the Getty/Annenberg Foundation (University of Southern California) and the Eugene O’Neill Center (Connecticut). He is co-author of the biography Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press, 2017) and several plays, and has taught news and feature writing, editing and magazine publishing at the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication and Portland State University.

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