People gathered Saturday afternoon in Esther Short Park to celebrate Black queer and transgender lives. About 100 people marched around downtown and through the Vancouver Farmers Market.
“We just wanted to center Black voices,” organizer Lexi Bongiorno said.
Bongiorno is president and founder of Southwest Washington Communities United for Change, a community-based organization that supports Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and marginalized community members. She’s organized several protests and gatherings around Black Lives Matter and felt it only appropriate to celebrate Black queer and transgender lives during the month of June, traditionally Pride Month.
Like most summer gatherings in Clark County, the annual Saturday in the Park Pride event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saturday’s gathering acknowledged the intersectionality of Blackness and queerness. Many of the people organizing recent protests and rallies are queer Black women such as Bongiorno.
Kaitlyn Bruneau, who also helped organize the gathering, came out as bisexual on Saturday. She said it’s important to create safe spaces for people from all walks of life.
Bruneau, 23, said she wonders what sort of pain and pressure she would have faced by coming out earlier in grade school.
For anyone who wants to get involved, she has this advice: “Just get out here. Be a part of the movement.”
During the gathering, Deja Johnson, a longtime Vancouver resident, shared their experience with racism in Clark County and encouraged people to keep fighting for change.
“The issue with systemic racism in Vancouver is something that affects my life directly,” said Johnson, who is Black and queer.
On Facebook, Johnson recently shared a story about taking the bus to run errands. Throughout the day, vehicles kept slowing down to look at Johnson, and eventually, a police car slowed down while Johnson was waiting at a bus stop.
“It really made me afraid,” Johnson said, who ended up calling their partner for a ride instead of taking the bus. “It’s not about someone looking at you wrong. It’s about what that means for your life.”
Johnson said the Black community and queer community are both fighting for the same right to live authentically, to be who they are.
Flyn Alexander spoke about recently forming a white solidarity group to educate one another and support communities of color. They’ve collaborated with Bongiorno and her organization for years.
“I think it’s important, especially in Vancouver, to be educated about the history of the queer community and Black community,” Alexander said.
Alexander would like to see more community-based education around social justice issues.
Southwest Washington Communities United for Change has a Kelso office in addition to its Vancouver office and is planning to organize events in Cowlitz County. To learn about the group’s upcoming gatherings, visit facebook.com/swwcuc.