You would think a 97 degree heat wave would deter some people from an outdoor event in Oregon. However, at Eugene Pride in the Park, the sea of rainbows and bodysuits only shined brighter.
In the blistering heat of the afternoon on Aug. 14, I walked in my rainbow and bisexual pride colored Converse past a line of cars sat bumper to bumper waiting to enter the event. Even with only an hour left, the cars extended well beyond the entrance to Alton Baker park and I entered behind a dozen people in Pride gear. The park was filled with rainbow tents, a sizable stage with Drag Queens in glittery costumes performing and the sounds of cheers and music in the air.
It reminded me of all the community events I went to as a kid in the suburbs, with local performers and vendors; but this event was dedicated to a special community of people celebrating self love in a world that can be hateful and cruel.
This event was a first for me in a lot of areas: first Pride, first Pride knowing I am queer and first Pride after beginning to come out. The overflow of people and celebration was a lot to take in at first sight. And, as a lone wolf at the event, I was nervous.
That is, until I started talking to people. I met some of the most kind-hearted, welcoming people right off the bat, including a Drag performer named Bonnie Rose.
“Pride to me is just a place where you can come whether you’re out or not, whether you’re visibly expressing yourself or not, and know that you are surrounded by a community in a safe and inclusive place,” Rose said.
Being a non-binary lesbian, Rose struggled to find their identity for much of their life — constantly denying the undeniable truth of their identity from attraction to girls to detachment from womanhood.
After years of struggle, Rose found themself. As we talked, Rose proudly wore a bow reading “DYKE” on their head and shared their story.
“From being in this community, from being around queer people and queer friends, I was able to learn these things about myself,” Rose said. “It’s liberating, and I wouldn’t have that without Pride and without the community in Eugene.”
Rose’s story echoes the universal struggles of almost all queer people, including myself. There are so many people who know their queerness from a young age but are forced to hide or question their feelings due to our heteronormative and cisnormative society — and fears of queerphobia.
As a bisexual, I too had to battle with internalized homophobia. Even with a supportive group of friends, I struggled to accept that I find women attractive and could see myself dating a woman.
On top of this, a harder battle was yet to come. With internalized biphobia, bisexuals struggle to accept that we are attracted to both men and women. This was harder for me to overcome than anything else; it was difficult to accept that I am allowed to like more than one gender. The phrases “it’s just a phase” or “a gay in denial” may hit home to many bisexuals. We hear these things from straight and queer people alike and internalize them over time.
It is because of these universal struggles that I joined hundreds of others in Alton Baker park — even though my mask was uncomfortably sweaty on my face in the heat of the August sun. It is because of the external and internal hate, denial, confusion and hardship that I smiled through my nerves upon seeing a crowd of rainbow and bedazzled people.
In a conversation with local queer Jennifer Burbank, we discussed the importance of Pride in our community, especially with a lack of equal rights in our country.
“Our younger people need to know it’s cool to be who you are and be accepted for who you are,” Burbank said. “[To] not let the loud voices drown out your sunshine and rainbow.”
Despite my struggle to accept my identity, I knew that every single person in that park, and in the absurdly long line of cars, loved and accepted me for who I am now. For an hour or so, I was able to celebrate my self love among a community of people who truly understand the struggle that it took to get here.