By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
It’s a letter, the last one in this string of initials: LGBTQ. It can mean “questioning,” to describe people who are unsure of or exploring their sexual identity or sexual orientation. It can also mean “queer.”
That’s not a word I say easily. To my ears, queer sounds like a taunt, a slur hurled by an ignorant and hateful speaker.
I was born in the 1950s, and raised in conservative Spokane. If I heard “queer” back then, it was likely in a whisper, and it signified nothing positive.
“People are reclaiming that word, a large community of people. We’re really seeing that with youth,” said Kathryn Lynn Morgen, a 26-year-old who lives in Langley.
On Whidbey Island, the “Q” word will soon be cause for celebration. Morgen is organizing Whidbey’s first-ever Queer Pride Parade, scheduled for 2 p.m. Aug. 10 in downtown Langley.
Morgen, who is development and communications manager for the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, said the parade’s aim is to honor differences and get beyond labels.
“To me, queer is an umbrella giving shade from the heat of ‘this way’ and ‘that way,’ ” Morgen said in a press release announcing the parade.
The parade team includes her husband, Michael Morgen, and Bonnie Stinson, described on the event website as a poet, baker and “queer feminist.”
Morgen grew up on the East Coast, and after high school in Rhode Island moved to Seattle with her mother and her mother’s partner — “my two moms,” she said. Her other mother had family on Whidbey, and she had visited the island since childhood.
In Seattle, Morgen said, she was part of a community of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people. “I saw them expressing their identities with the word queer. I associate myself with the word in a positive way,” she said. “It’s really recognizing that everybody is a little weird.”
She hopes the Queer Pride Parade will “increase awareness of the great, colorful spectrum of possibilities that define what it is to be human.”
Morgen said Grethe Cammermeyer has accepted an invitation to be the parade’s grand marshal. The retired Army Reserve colonel, who lives on Whidbey Island with her spouse Diane Divelbess, was a longtime champion of allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military.
“We feel amazingly blessed to have her,” Morgen said.
Tom Blossom, 76, is president of the Everett-Snohomish Chapter of PFLAG, Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. He has been uncomfortable with the word queer. “I had a hard time saying it. Kids shamed me into it,” the Monroe area man said. “It’s been reclaimed,” he added.
Through PFLAG, Blossom has been involved with GLOBE, a group for young people in Snohomish County who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning.
Blossom, who is not gay and has three straight daughters, came to PFLAG through his church, Everett’s United Church of Christ. In the 1990s, he said, “we became aware of the fact that no mainline Christian church accepted LGBT folks into full participation in the whole county,” he said. “I headed up a task force to publicly declare that we were a welcoming church to all.”
When a former leader of the local PFLAG group quit 16 years ago, Blossom took on the task. “It was too important to let it die,” he said. The PFLAG group meets at 7 p.m. the third Monday of each month at the Everett church, 2624 Rockefeller Ave.
Blossom and I aren’t the only ones uneasy with the “Q” word. The subject was addressed in a recent Washington Post blog called “Civilities.” In his Post blog, the author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay &Lesbian Manners” turned to the Oregon State University’s Pride Center website to define “queer.”
The OSU Pride Center defines it like this: “Originally pejorative for gay, it is now being reclaimed by some gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons as a self-affirming umbrella term. Caution: still extremely offensive when used as an epithet, especially among older Queers.”
I’ll keep erring on the side of caution. Blossom offers an alternative. “Unique — there’s a word for you,” he said.
Morgen, the Queer Pride Parade organizer, simply wants to celebrate, rather than fear, differences.
“It’s really a heart thing,” she said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Queer Pride Parade
Whidbey Island’s Queer Pride Parade is scheduled for 2 p.m. Aug. 10, starting at the intersection of Cascade Avenue and Sixth Street in Langley and looping through downtown Langley. All are welcome to participate in the family-friendly event. Information: www.queerparade.com/#about or www.facebook.com/events/580483868717443