Decorah PRIDE

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Decorah PRIDE

A crowd of people at the Party in the Park portion of Decorah Pride on Saturday, May 12.

A crowd of people at the Party in the Park portion of Decorah Pride on Saturday, May 12.

Emma Busch (‘20) | Chips

A crowd of people at the Party in the Park portion of Decorah Pride on Saturday, May 12.

Emma Busch (‘20) | Chips

Emma Busch (‘20) | Chips

A crowd of people at the Party in the Park portion of Decorah Pride on Saturday, May 12.

Emma Busch, Staff Writer

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Rainbow flags, multicolored wigs, and wide smiles brightened downtown Decorah on an overcast Saturday during the first Decorah Pride celebration on Saturday, May 12.

The Pride planning committee, comprised of Amalia Vagts (‘95), Alex Enriquez, Associate Professor of Philosophy Holly Moore, Daniel Brown (‘18), Andrew Ellingsen (‘03), Charlie Strange, and Storme Barr first met in March to organize the event. According to Enriquez, discussions about holding a pride festival began last summer at an LGBTQ potluck Vagts organized, but nothing came to fruition until the idea resurfaced in March while meeting for coffee. 

“It had seemed like it wasn’t going to happen until the idea came up again in March during a meeting of the local LGBTQ group,” Enriquez said. “At that time, I said that if we held the event before I moved away at the end of May I’d help put it together. I wasn’t expecting that anyone else would want to put together the event in that time scale, though we had previously discussed May as a good month to hold Decorah Pride because we wanted Luther students to be in town for it. The group was actually very enthusiastic about that suggestion.”

According to Vagts, Decorah Pride was also born out of a desire to offer an opportunity to celebrate the Decorah LGBTQ community and showcase its gifts.

“[Pride] is a chance to step out and be creative and be free,” Vagts said. “That is really a gift that the LGBTQ community offers everyone.”

Emma Busch (‘20) | Chips
Free Time Jazz Ensemble performs at Decorah Pride.

Pride kicked off with a parade that began at Mary Christopher Park, ran through Water Street, and ended at Water Street Park. 17 groups and organizations marched in the parade, in addition to dozens of individuals who held signs proclaiming pride in their identities or messages of love and support as the crowd cheered.

Festivities continued at the Party in the Park, where six members of the community shared speeches. President of Luther College PRIDE Filiberto Lopez-Garcia (‘19) was the first to speak and referenced the intersections of his identity as a queer Latinx Mexican-American before proclaiming his love and belief in his “LGBTQ family.”

“I believe in the LGBT community,” Lopez-Garcia said. “I believe in LGBTQ youth. I believe in LGBTQ marriage equality. I believe in equality and I believe in love, because at the end of the day isn’t that what it’s all about? Being able to love whomever you want without the misconceptions or anyone telling you otherwise. Equality under the law should be as natural as the air we breathe and the religion we practice.”

Professor of English Nancy Barry followed by sharing her poem, “Anthem for Decorah,” in which she invites the city to “call [itself] proud and be queer.”

Decorah resident Christopher Fassbender (‘16) had a more somber message of remembrance and respect for LGBTQ elders and invited audience members to join in a moment of silence.

“This silence is not for me, it’s not for you, it’s for the people that paved the way for us to be here,” Fassbender said. “Celebration comes from history, and the history of the queer people is from the 80s and people dying of AIDS, people having nowhere to go and having to go to alleys to see each other. We’re here because of them.”

Decorah resident Charlie Langton followed with the message that it “takes all kinds,” and walked through the history of the gay rights activism as it evolved from his youth in the 1960s to now. Langton also encouraged LGBTQ youth to blaze their own paths and thanked allies for their support.

Emma Busch (‘20) | Chips
Alexandra Gray (‘95) performs songs by artists Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston, and Donna Summer.

“If you’re gay but still can’t find a comfortable way to fit in, I say be gay your way,” Langton said. “None of us have a roadmap and your way might be the next great gay thing. And to all our allies out there, I so appreciate each and every one of you because I remember days where I had no one.”

President of the Decorah High School Gay-Straight Alliance Abby Trewin shared that she was initially apprehensive about starting the GSA program up again due to her perception that the “gay demographic” in Decorah was too small but is now proud of the organization for “binding so many of the [LGBTQ] cafeteria loners together.”

Local farmer Hannah Breckbill was the last of the speakers and began her speech by acknowledging the land and the indigenous peoples who were forcibly removed from the area. She recognized how “white settlers had blinders on in their imaginations” that prevented them from accepting other ways of life. Breckbill said Pride is the first step in the city’s path to centering those who are different in what she calls Decorah’s “collective imagination.” 

“We need to experiment making our community a place of real belonging for people who aren’t white, aren’t straight, and who don’t fit the gender binary,” Breckbill said. “We need to experiment in making reparations for this land that was stolen from indigenous people and the labor stolen from indigenous people. We have so much to learn and I am humbled by the bigness of it. But I am also proud to be in this community that is brave enough to start by imagining that queer people like me belong here.”

Following these speeches, the Luther Singers sang “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper and “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon. Afterwards, Alexandra Gray (‘95) took to the mic to perform songs from the musicals “Chicago” and “Hairspray,” and singers such as Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston, and Donna Summer.

Audience members laughed and cheered as Gray told jokes between songs and did an Eartha Kitt impression, but Gray shared that the day was not a completely joyous occasion for her as it was the first time she had returned to Decorah since her aunt, Phyllis Gray, who lead Luther’s Upward Bound program for 40 years, had passed away.

“It’s a really rough day for me today,” Gray said. “Coming home today was bittersweet but thank you for brightening the day. We’re going to have some fun.”

During Gray’s last song, “I Know Where I’ve Been,” she approached Janet Irankunda (‘19) and thanked her for singing at her aunt’s memorial service. The two embraced and the crowd applauded.

The Luther College Jazz Ensemble Free Time performed after Gray. Following Party in the Park, other Pride events were held including an all-ages dance party at the Lingonberry, a gala at Art Haus, and a party at Pulpit Rock Brewing Co.

Barr was pleased by how well the festival was received and the joy it brought to the community.

“I was so excited when the parade started and when I saw all the smiling faces,” Barr said. “I loved face painting with the little kids today. Everyone is just so happy and my heart is overjoyed.”

According to Moore, the committee hopes that Decorah Pride will continue to grow in the future with a wider variety of events and participants.

“One thing the leadership discussed was having businesses and other organizations create their own Pride events that will be run in tandem with a whole Pride weekend of events, entertainment, and other fun activities,” Moore said. “We’re hoping that Decorah Pride will become like another Nordic Fest, something where people come from all around to gather to promote and celebrate Decorah’s spirit of welcomeness and its LGBTQIA+ community.”

Ellingsen added that in order for Decorah Pride to grow, the community must remain engaged and open to sharing new ideas. 

“I hope that it continues to grow in an organic way, in the same way that this came about from a conversation from a group of people,” Ellingsen said. “If there are additional things people want added to the Pride festival, I hope those ideas are shared and that it continues to be a grassroots thing and continues to be a community celebration. It’s going to take lots of hands for a long time to keep it going if it’s going to be an annual event.”

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