Denton Touché, 42, left, and Anya Martin, 43, right, dance during the second annual Arlington Pride at Legion Memorial Park in Arlington, Washington on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Denton Touché, 42, left, and Anya Martin, 43, right, dance during the second annual Arlington Pride at Legion Memorial Park in Arlington, Washington on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Arlington Pride event draws hundreds, protesters also show

Organizer Caera Gramore hopes to bring Pride back next year, despite a myriad of conflicts with the city and some community members.

ARLINGTON — Caera Gramore was exhausted by the time Arlington’s Pride event concluded Saturday.

One of the lead organizers, Gramore had performed during the event, a drawn-on black mustache fading. She was upbeat, but happy the long-planned event met expectations amid conflict with city officials and the threat of protests.

“A lot of people came out and it sounded like they were all having fun,” Gramore said. “We did have families and youth here so not everybody got scared away by the other side, which was good. It was just beautiful seeing the people that came out for it.”

Throughout the day, several hundred people filtered through Legion Park to enjoy music, dancing and performances.

“There’s still so many people that live right in these small towns, artists yearning for representation and don’t want to have to travel all the way to Seattle to get it. They want to be represented right where they live,” said Gina Touché, a drag performer and the event’s MC. “And it doesn’t have to be extravagant all the time. We do this because there’s so much to fight back that sometimes you need the extravagance.”

Saturday’s event also drew around 60 protesters, who gathered outside of the nearby hardware store and Lifeway Church. The protesters, led by Tom Hughes, a local right-wing agitator, marched around the park seven times over nearly two hours in a so-called “Jericho March” while praying. Many carried signs: some had religious messages, while others focused on painting drag performers as a threat to children.

Protesters and attendees interact during the second annual Arlington Pride at Legion Memorial Park in Arlington, Washington on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Protesters and attendees interact during the second annual Arlington Pride at Legion Memorial Park in Arlington, Washington on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Two people in the march carried riot shields, though no violence broke out.

Around 10 police officers patrolled the park throughout the four-hour event. Guns were not allowed within 250 feet, in accordance with state law. No visible guns were carried by protesters. The city had previously told Pride organizers their event did not qualify for the statute’s protection.

The city was incorrect in its understanding of the law. Earlier in the week, the civil rights division of the state attorney general’s office stepped in to clarify the law with Arlington city officials, said state Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett.

Liias is the co-chair of the state legislature’s LGBTQ+ caucus.

“Unfortunately for LGBTQ people we face obstacles all the time,” he said at the event Saturday. “I’m so proud of Caera (Gramore) and her team. They have a sense of determination and they’re going to overcome every barrier that’s put in front of them.”

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, who is from Arlington, also spoke about how far the city has come.

A person wears a pride flag in their hat during the second annual Arlington Pride at Legion Memorial Park in Arlington, Washington on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

A person wears a pride flag in their hat during the second annual Arlington Pride at Legion Memorial Park in Arlington, Washington on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

“When I was graduating high school in 1983 here in Arlington, Arlington pride maybe meant something else,” Larsen said. “And I am so pleased that Arlington Pride means so many things today. And I’m really proud to be from Arlington and I’m proud to be here with you all today.”

The barriers were many and stemmed from a conversation in late April with several city officials. In that meeting, the mayor asked if organizers would consider not having a drag performer read to children during the event.

Drag story time performers backed out of Saturday’s Pride, citing threats, Gramore said. Security and insurance costs — which had not been asked of the group the year prior — also became barriers before the city backed off.

In one final twist, organizers got late notice they were given all of Legion Park. The farmers market instead took a neighboring parking lot.

Initially, Pride was slated to be right next to the summer farmers market and share Legion Park. Under the initial plan, the group would have had an 80-foot by 160-foot space to host the event.

Many of those with farmers market booths, including Brett Aiello who runs Reconnecting Roots Farm, were happy to see the celebration.

“I enjoyed it, we’ve got live music and dancing and having a good time, everyone’s in good spirits,” Aiello said. “It gives the day a little more energy than it normally has.”

Attendees watch protesters pass by during the second annual Arlington Pride at Legion Memorial Park in Arlington, Washington on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Attendees watch protesters pass by during the second annual Arlington Pride at Legion Memorial Park in Arlington, Washington on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

At least four downtown businesses that normally would have been open were closed Saturday, said Lauren Hammond, the owner of Hammond Bread Company. Some of Hammond’s treats for sale Saturday were Pride themed.

“I’m happy to support and love,” Hammond said. “I’m not going to close because a couple protesters are going to show up.”

Two months of intense public comments at City Council meetings preceded the event. Those remarks ranged from LGBTQ+ community members pleading for their right to exist peacefully to accusations those very people were condoning pedophilia and sexualizing children.

In the end, though, the event was not disrupted. Gramore would like to have a third annual Pride in Arlington next year.

“We want to see Pride keep happening,” she said. “We might strategize to do it a little differently given the community.”

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly named someone at a march around the Arlington Pride event on Saturday afternoon.

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