Walla Walla pride groups coalesce for common goals
Sometimes a beer after work is just a beer after work.
And sometimes a glass is a way to bring people together. On Thursday, a Queer Beer gathering in Walla Walla filled that role.
Organized by a coalition of local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community groups, the event at Quirk Brewing near the Walla Walla Regional Airport was one of a series of get-togethers intended to foster cohesiveness among themselves and beyond.
Annie Capestany, an organizer with Community Pride Walla Walla, bustled around the microbrewery to refill the Goldfish crackers, M & M’s and pretzels offered to quaffers, who numbered more than 50 before the night was over.
A grant of $1,700 from the Pride Foundation, operating in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, is bolstering the local work of what Capestany calls the VUE program — “Visible, United & EnGAYged,” she said.
The program was launched earlier this year. One of its first goals is to discuss the results of a needs assessment done in 2015 to determine service gaps for LGBTQI people here, particularly in medical care.
As well, VUE will work to build stronger bonds among participants and to reduce prejudice and misunderstandings in the larger community.
“We want people to realize there are a lot more LGBTQI people than they realize,” said Capestany, identifying herself as a straight ally.
Community Pride Walla Walla, formed in 2013, functions as an umbrella organization and a clearinghouse for local information. It’s not a support group, per se, but action oriented, she pointed out.
Plans call for VUE’s work to take place through social gatherings, like Queer Beer night, and a kickoff presentation on March 22 at First Congregational Church, 73 S. Palouse St., at 5:30 p.m.
A need for the area’s like-minded groups to unite began to emerge after the Pulse nightclub shooting last year in Orlando, Fla., that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others, said Cedar Green, co-founder of Walla Walla Queers.
“We wanted to have increased visibility and create safe, social places,” he said. “This political climate has brought people out in search of support.”
Green said he moved to Walla Walla the first time in 1993 and moved away in 2006. The city was not a safe or welcoming environment for non heterosexual people then, he said.
Now, despite a few incidents of political unrest, the safety climate here has risen since those earlier years, he noted.
A number of organizations have been working on community needs like safety and advocacy, but mostly in silo settings and not talking among themselves, Green said.
That’s changing, starting with creating the first formal resource list people can access for Walla Walla-based LGBTQI information, such as the function of each VUE partner, including Pride Walla Walla, the local chapter of the Washington Gender Alliance and The Rainbow Alliance of Walla Walla.
Eventually that list will be populated with other entries, such as LGBTQI-supportive medical providers, educational materials, helpful non-LGBTQI organizations and a primer for those just starting to seek on-hand resources, Green and Capestany said.
Noel Chavez of Tri-Cities said he’s envious of that level of activity in Walla Walla.
Sipping a Quirk IPA, the 28 year-old said groups in his area tend to stay separate and staid. Planned activities usually mean watching TV somewhere and not being very social, he said.
“We have a lot more events … a lot more community organizing,” agreed Francisco Leos Esquivel, 26, of Walla Walla.
Emma Crockett said she found Queer Beer to be a timely idea.
While Walla Walla seems perfectly safe to a straight woman like herself, Crockett said she recognizes that’s a privilege not everyone has.
“This seems like a good opportunity to offer support,” she said, glancing around at the packed brewery. “In this political climate, it’s more important than ever.”
Sheila Hagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8322.