Ashland city councilor looks forward to resumption of Southern Oregon Pride Festival on Saturday
By Debora Gordon for Ashland.news
“We’re going to have tons of fun,” declared Gina DuQuenne about Saturday’s resumption of the Southern Oregon Pride Festival Parade in Ashland, after a two-year break due to COVID-19. “It might be smaller than 2019. … That’s OK, we’re going to march. We’re going to celebrate.”
The parade is set to step off at noon Saturday, Oct. 8, from in front of the Ashland Public Library and make its way to Butler Bandshell in Lithia Park.
Another event, “Women’s Wave 2022,” is planned for Ashland Plaza from 10 a.m. to noon.
“I’m hoping they will run back down and be part of the parade,” said DuQuenne. “We are able to celebrate each other. I’m sure we will cross-pollinate and have some of the women marchers in with Pride, because that unity is so important.”
Born and raised in Los Angeles, DuQuenne moved to Ashland in November 2006 with her wife, Josh Willow, after hearing rave reviews from Willow who had visited several times. “It came down to the quantity vs. quality of life,” recalls DuQuenne, who was elected to the Ashland City Council in 2020. “We chose quality of life.”
“(Southern Oregon) Pride is my baby,” says DuQuenne. “I am the founder of SO Pride; it was a thought in 2008, and we marched in 2010.” She explains the origin story. “In 2008, there was a gathering at Ashland Plaza; it was a function for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer) community. It was sparsely attended. … I asked my partner, ‘where is everybody?’ We need to have a Pride Parade.”
DuQuenne spoke to someone who had organized Pride gatherings in the park in Medford, and wondered how come Ashland wasn’t doing the same.
“Knowing that the queer community is here in Ashland, I wanted to embrace that, rejoice that, celebrate it,” she recalls. “I saw the 4th of July parade and I thought, ‘why can’t we do this parade?’ Ashland was always so welcoming, I thought, ‘We need to do this, too.’”
After doing some research and getting permits,and putting things in place, the SO Pride parade began. This year is the 13th year, after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19.
“We’re back, like the phoenix,” said DuQuenne. “This year’s parade is going to start at the library. We stage on Union Street. We have our grand marshal, Mayor Julie Akins, we have our community that’s marching. We going to have some queens in the parade. What’s a parade without drag queens? … When you get to the bandshell, our mayor will speak. There will be food trucks, drag show, music, entertainment, aerial dancers.”
The festivities kick off Friday with “Pride Crawl” at Black Sheep, Trapdoor, Brothers, Sammich, Creekside, Beaux Club and Ashland Food Co-op.
“I’m very grateful for is that the City Council and our city manager and the work that our staff has done, we are able now to have commemorative flags flown at city buildings, for the first time,” said DuQueene. “We are going to have a Pride flag at every city building. I’m so excited to show community and solidarity. I hope that businesses, homes, restaurants, B&Bs, hotels, everybody orders and puts their pride flags out for every second Saturday in October.”
“I just love Ashland, and it has such a special vibe and I felt like we were missing our opportunities that I saw going by,” recalls DuQuenne about her decision to run for council in 2020. “I looked at businesses that wanted to be here but were priced out, building jobs out, because of the cost of the land and of the permits, the restrictions, the cost to live here was going up, and I didn’t see any flexibility in that. …
“Since I got here, I would see young families moving out, they couldn’t afford to live here. I believe in a mix of cultures, ages and races. When I saw so many young families moving out, it concerned me. I’m the kind of person that if I see something that needs to be done, I will roll up my sleeves and go do it and try to be of service as best I can. And be helpful in my community. When I ran for council, it was ‘Gina for the People,’ because that’s who I am, I’m for the people, about the people, that’s why I came here.
Duquenne enrolled in the Emerge Class designed for progressive women seeking political office, which teaches women how to run a campaign. “I want to be of service. I graduated from Emerge in November 2019. I knew I was going to run. I was ready.” DuQuenne won in a landslide.
“As a queer Black woman, I have thick skin; no time for falling apart,” she says, now that’s she’s been in office. “I think that this has allowed me an opportunity because of whom I am to be there for the people, to speak what is right and to hear what I hear to be true. Everybody’s not going to like me. …
“I want to bring unity to the community to bring to Ashland, by opening the dialogue, by having town halls, where we can all gather and contribute our thoughts and our visions, the way we imagine Ashland. I think that openness, that communication to me is very important.”
DuQuenne knows the singularity of being the first Black and openly gay woman elected to the City Council. “Something that I think is important as a woman of color, as a Black American, to be able to tell the people of Ashland to tell them I am grateful, that I am honored to represent the people of Ashland and be on City Council, and in the words of our vice-president, ‘I might be the first, but I will not be the last.’ I invite people who look like me, brown, black, queer, to have a seat at the dais. The door’s open.”
Debora Gordon is a writer, artist, educator and non-violence activist who recently moved to Ashland from Oakland, California. Email Ashland.news Executive Editor Bert Etling at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text him at 541-631-1313.