When Mark Lenihan helped organize Roseburg’s first Pride rally at Stewart Park in 2017, he had no idea he would be standing outside the Douglas County Courthouse two years later among hundreds more LGBTQ community members, he said.
The turnout at Roseburg’s first Pride parade on Sunday amazed the event’s organizers and marchers, who said they’ve been waiting to feel seen by the wider community for years, and for some, decades.
“I don’t know how many people are here right now,” said Lenihan, the parade’s lead organizer with the recently-established group, PFLAG Roseburg — a local chapter of the national LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit.
“It was really the young people that got me started in this, because when we did our first rally, and there was an open-mic share time, it was the young people who really broke my heart that were coming up and telling story after story about feeling alone and not having any community,” he said.
Lenihan, who has two children that are part of the LGBTQ community, said people’s feelings of isolation started to diminish at Roseburg’s second rally last year. On Sunday, Lenihan was elated to see that momentum continue.
The parade’s procession took up more than two city blocks as hundreds of people donning rainbow clothes, holding pride flags and chanting “whose love, our love” marched from the courthouse, through downtown Roseburg and back. After the parade, people gathered outside the courthouse again to hear speakers talk about their sexuality.
Lenihan chose the parade’s theme: “More pride, less fear.” He said the theme was significant on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which began the LGBTQ-rights movement in 1969 after New York City police officers raided a gay-friendly bar. The NYPD made an official apology for the raid earlier this month.
“They wanted to be able to live their lives in peace,” Lenihan said. “Without having to hide who they are, and without having to live in fear of just walking down the street.”
People of all ages, including toddlers with pride stickers on their cheeks and seniors holding hands with their partners, attended the parade in Roseburg.
The number of young people was particularly high. Many of them said it was the first time they’ve attended a pride parade.
“I didn’t realize Roseburg had such a big community,” said an 18-year-old Roseburg resident, who identifies as gender nonbinary and preferred to be called Emmett because they haven’t come out to their parents yet.
“I don’t care about what people think anymore, I’m proud to be who I am,” Emmett said. “It’s amazing to see all these people come together to be proud of who they are.”
Before the parade began, groups of young people got into shouting matches with a few people from RV Saltshakers, a Rogue Valley-based Christian group that often attends pride events holding signs with messages such as, “You cannot love sin and love God at the same time.”
Members of the religious group passed out leaflets and talked with parade participants as they gathered in front of the courthouse. While interactions between the opposing groups weren’t violent, pride marchers tried to cover the Saltshakers’ signs with their own signs throughout the event.
People said the parade was evidence that the LGBTQ community is making progress, but they added there is a lot more work to do.
Dane Zahner and his husband, Bill Romo, said they’ve lived in Roseburg since the early 2000s, and they’d never experienced discrimination until recently. Romo said a potential wedding venue manager told him she wasn’t doing any weddings anymore because of an ongoing court case regarding a Gresham baker who refused to serve a same-sex wedding. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered Oregon to review the case again.
“I work in an accounting office, they were clients of ours, and I had called from my work phone,” Romo said. “Two months later, she brought me a letter and this DVD saying we needed to change our ways or go to hell.”
A week later, Romo saw a post on the venue’s Facebook page showing it was still holding weddings. He said he and Zahner have filed a discrimination claim with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.
Zahner said the experience made participating in the Roseburg Pride parade more significant.
“You do have to do this, and you shouldn’t have to do it,” he said. “People ask why there are still Pride parades, because of what we still encounter today.”