Sitkans picnic at the town’s first LGBTQ+ Pride celebration on the lawn outside the Pioneer Home Manager’s House. Originally planned as a private event, organizers chose instead to go public in the hope of stimulating more gatherings in the future. (KCAW photo/Rachel Cassandra)

Pride celebrations in the United States are in their fifth decade and for the first time, Sitka held a public celebration. The potluck picnic took place at the Pioneers Home Manager’s House on June 28th, 2018. About thirty people showed up to eat and celebrate.

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Peg Blumer, from SAFV, Sitkans Against Family Violence, organized Sitka’s first Pride event. She says the celebration plan started as a barbecue between friends, but that it grew from there. Blumer believes this is the first official Pride celebration in the town. She says, “We really wanted everyone in the community to know that they’re respected and they’re cared for and they’re safe.”

The picnic was a mix of people who identify as queer or allies. All expressed that there should be more events like this in Sitka. Quinlyn Holder served as the student representative on the School Board last year. She’s a lifelong Sitkan and part of the LGBTQ community, and hasn’t seen much in the way of queer events or support. She says, “My experience has never been really negative but it’s always been like nonexistent.”

Holder acknowledges there have been several plans in the works for queer-friendly events. A couple have occurred in the past, but nothing current. Queer people simply don’t have dedicated spaces or events here yet.

Maia Mares has been living here for the past two years. She notes she hasn’t been as out here as other places she’s lived. “I’ve found if I don’t raise the issue myself, it’s not raised or there isn’t space to raise it.”

For Sitkans who do want to be more welcoming of the queer community she suggests not assuming anything about people’s sexualities or gender identities. She says, “Invite people to share their pronouns, so that you know which ones to use when referring to other people.”

Aside from wanting these tangible changes toward queer acceptance and inclusivity, Mares wants to celebrate for more than just a single month. She says, “I wish queer life in Sitka were more vibrant and visible.”