Veteran Kevin Matier would never miss a Pride parade. “When I was a kid, I was spit on, beat up, had books shoved out of my hands,” he said, adding he does everything he can in support of equal rights.
That's pretty much how most people felt Saturday as the annual Alaska Pride Parade marched from Fourth Avenue to Delaney Park in downtown Anchorage, just blocks away from where the first-ever Color Run in Alaska was wrapping up. The parade was Mardi Gras-themed and the atmosphere upbeat, but marchers also shared stories of hardship and overcoming adversity.
The parade is one of the defining events of Pride Week, a national celebration of the gay and lesbian community. For Matier, Pride Week means "I get to celebrate my diversity."
Matier served four years in the military at a time when nobody talking openly about their sexual preference, but “they knew.” As an adult, Matier worked to better himself. He quit smoking, lost 100 pounds and ran five marathons.
“The last stronghold in my closest was coming out,” he said.
Matier was married for 23 years before coming out two years ago, a decision that involved a lot of “personal sacrifices,” but also opened up the door to new friendships, new strength and new love.
Organizer and drag-queen DJ Daphne DoAll LaChores, who was on the mic throughout the march, said the Pride Parade is “our day on the streets.”
She said equal rights for gays and lesbians is inevitable. “The genie is way out of the bottle -- and I think the genie’s gay.”
Sixty-five vendors set up shop at Delaney Park this year -- the most ever, said event coordinator Beth Allen. Vendors included a few big names that hadn’t participated in past years, like Alaska Airlines and the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. Andrew Halcro, president of the chamber, marched in the parade.
While the march itself wasn’t the largest Anchorage has seen, thousands came by to check out the vendors afterward, while events earlier in the week saw “more participation than ever before,” Allen said.
For marcher Karen Stulting, Pride Week is an opportunity “for people to see us and acknowledge there’s a gay community” in the city of Anchorage.
A 17-year Anchorage resident, Stulting said “the city’s going backwards” in terms of gay rights, referring to the defeat of Prop. 5 last year, an initiative that would have expanded Anchorage's anti-discrimination code to include sexual orientation and transgender identity.
She believes supporters of gay rights need to do more than back the movement silently. Still, she’s optimistic that soon gay people will be afforded equal housing and marriage rights.
“The tide is turning,” she said.
Susan Halvor, who also marched in the parade, is a gay pastor at a local Lutheran church. “It’s been challenging,” she said, “but there have been a lot of gifts.” Having faced opposition in her own life, she ministers to people living on the margins.
For Halvor, Pride Week is a “chance to be really fully who I am, as a lesbian, a Lutheran and an Alaskan.”
Pride Week is winding down, with the finale BBQ on Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Mad Myrna’s.
Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com