Michael Moaje makes a face while getting his makeup done during Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration on Saturday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Michael Moaje makes a face while getting his makeup done during Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration on Saturday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

First-ever Pride celebrations draw hundreds in north county

“We didn’t expect this could happen here,” said Sall Hutson, 76. “In little towns a long time ago, you could hardly come out at all.”

ARLINGTON — Drag queens in bright wigs, high heels and dramatic makeup took to the stage and captivated a crowd with sassy and soulful performances this weekend at Legion Memorial Park.

People of all ages, decked out in rainbow garb, clapped and whooped.

An estimated 300 people attended Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration, and an estimated 800 turned out for a similar first-time event on Camano Island. Pride events have been held in June ever since the Stonewall riots in 1969.

The Arlington event also featured a panel discussion, a bubble show, dance lessons, interactive improv and a Pride walk.

Locals remarked Saturday’s Pride festivities felt historic for their small, rural communities.

“It’s pretty monumental,” said Faith Berry, 27.

Berry attended the event with friend Ryan Halstead, also 27. The two, who grew up in Arlington, said the city has become more welcoming to LGBT people.

“It’s really cool to see the change,” Berry said.

A person wearing a small rainbow flag on their hat passes under a rainbow arch at Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration Saturday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A person wearing a small rainbow flag on their hat passes under a rainbow arch at Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration Saturday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Halstead said he would have had a different outlook on himself as a kid if he had a Pride event to go to.

“It’s an expression of who you are,” he said. “A lot of people can’t (express themselves) because of their environment.”

Arlington residents Jami Gramore and Erica Knapp helped organize the event. They felt there was a need.

“We had conversations with middle- and high-school students — their faces would light up when we would talk about Pride,” Knapp said. They formed a nonprofit, Arlington WA Pride, and plan to host future events.

At one point, a small group in black clothes and ski masks holding signs protested the event. A drag queen in a blonde wig did a round-off handspring in response.

Overall, the mood seemed jubilant.

“It feels magical,” said drag queen Gina Touché, of Mount Vernon. “I always love the first Pride. You feel like the rebirth of love. The town is getting this zap of love.”

Touché, in a blue gown with a glitter-bedazzled beard and eyebrows, described her drag persona as a “sassy, live-singing, glitter-bearded Southern thing.”

Murphy’s Lala tells Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration crowd to “pay them no mind” in response to protestors Saturday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Murphy’s Lala tells Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration crowd to “pay them no mind” in response to protestors Saturday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“I love bringing drag to the community like this,” she said.

Sadie Jones, 7, attended the event with parents Amy and Zack, of Arlington. The girl held a homemade sign with “love” in rainbow colors. The message was simple, Sadie said.

“It means be yourself,” she said. “All people deserve love.”

On Camano Island, the Pride celebration at Freedom Park was both upbeat and relaxed. It featured a parade around the park and a color throw.

On a grassy hillside, longtime Camano Island resident Sall Hutson took in the scene.

“We didn’t expect this could happen here,” said Hutson, 76. “In little towns a long time ago, you could hardly come out at all.”

After she moved from Seattle to Camano Island in 1989, she opened an art gallery in downtown Stanwood. She remembers when eggs were thrown at the gallery’s windows.

What has changed?

Mia Roue, 14, participates in a color throw at Stanwood and Camano’s first-ever Pride celebration Saturday at Freedom Park. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mia Roue, 14, participates in a color throw at Stanwood and Camano’s first-ever Pride celebration Saturday at Freedom Park. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“We started being brave in coming out and educating people about who we are,” she said, “and that makes a big difference.”

Michelle Huntley, who organized the Camano Island Pride event, hoped the celebration would be “an eye opener.”

She wanted people to see one another and know they “don’t have to hide and disguise.”

On Saturday, she planned to announce a new PFLAG chapter for Stanwood-Camano Island. The organization supports LGBTQ+ people and their families.

“Being gay isn’t just one month out of the year,” Huntley said. “Folks need support, education and advocacy.”

In Monroe, there will be a second annual Pride event from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 12, at Sky River Park.

Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; jacqueline.allison@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @jacq_allison.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong age for Sadie Jones.

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