Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — A few dozen people turned out for pride event in Sunset Park over the weekend. The festivities included a rainbow walk, in which participants were covered with washable rainbow paint as they paraded around the park.
“This is just an event to show the youth in Washington that there is people that care about them, and they are welcome here despite what many in our community say about the LGBTQ+,” event organizer and sponsor Whitney Gray said. “We faced a lot of discrimination, I didn’t come out of the closet until I was in my 20s because I’m bisexual, and there was so much discrimination in this town, we didn’t feel safe being ourselves.
“We just want other teens and other people that are questioning their identity to not feel that way, and not wait as long as we did.”
Volunteer Chase Dieleman said his involvement was also shaped by personal experience.
“I came out when I was around 21,” he said. “It just was a lot of trauma that I was holding onto, and I want kids in this town to feel really welcome to be who they are, and that they’re not alone and that there is a community for them … where they can be their authentic selves.”
Gray said she felt the event accomplished that goal.
“We see a pretty good turnout of teenagers who are LGBTQ+,” she said. “Some of these kids two years ago, when we started this event, were really shut down. And now they’re open, they’re wearing flags, they’re confident being themselves in a public setting. So if we help even a few of these kids not feel like they’re worthless … in this town, then we’ve accomplished what we’re going for.”
Gray said the conservative community made it difficult to organize events like the Rainbow Walk.
“People expressed to me that they weren’t going to come because they were afraid of violence,” she said. “Having an overwhelmingly Christian community, where a lot of them are old-style Evangelical, that is a worry … it’s hard to get any companies to stand up and actually support an event like this in a community like this because they could lose business.”
Still, there is some support, however discrete. Gray said his year’s event featured more paint, more water balloons, and more food.
“We’ve gotten a few businesses that donated small amounts and were like, ‘Don’t say anything about it,’” she said. “That’s how we’ve funded this being a little bit bigger this year … we’re hoping to get some more sponsors this next year, but we’ll see with how the world’s going, what’s going to happen.”