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Organizers to celebrate LGBTQ community with demonstration and picnic in St. Helens.

Community members are planning a public Pride event — possibly the first in Columbia County — for Saturday, June 25.

The event will have two parts: a demonstration with signs and flags at the Plaza Square next to St. Helens City Hall and the courthouse, followed by a picnic at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.

"Part of what I hope happens with this event is that it shows to the queer community in Columbia County and their allies that you can live here and have a fulfilling life and be your authentic self. You don't have to run away to the Castro District in San Francisco or PDX," Vernonia resident Michael Calhoun said.

Shana Cavanaugh, one of the event organizers, said they asked community members what sort of Pride event they wanted to see for LGBTQ Columbia County residents.

The feedback was mainly "that they just wanted a celebration, just something happy and fun," Cavanaugh said.

But members of the local LGBTQ community also said they wanted a demonstration because of attacks throughout the country on gay rights, transgender students, books that discuss sexuality or gender, and more, Cavanaugh said.

"We just felt that it was appropriate to actually have a demonstration to show that we are here and this is what we stand for," Cavanaugh said. "We're not going to be pushed back into the shadows. We're not going back to the 1950s."

The free, family-friendly picnic will include face painting, music, a photo booth, food and drinks, vendors, and activities for kids.

"It's important that we are visible, not just for our community members that are out and comfortable with their identities, but especially for those that aren't, that are scared, or nervous, or may be thinking that they don't really have much of a community here," Cavanaugh said.

Calhoun, who is 32, said that growing up as a gay kid in Vernonia was difficult.

"I am proud of Vernonia, I am very involved in the community. But ... the schools were truly horrible in not having resources to protect kids from bullying, and that's scars I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. But it's not stopping me from making sure that doesn't help happen for anyone that's in school now," Calhoun said.

Though organized by the leaders of the progressive political group Moving Forward Columbia County, Cavanaugh said the event isn't political.

"We are just human beings existing, and we're having a community picnic to celebrate ourselves and each other," they said.

"On the one hand, we still have to fight to be treated as full citizens with all of the same rights and protections as anyone else and not not be discriminated against. And then on the other side of that, we're here to celebrate and we're here to show that we are happy with ourselves. We are proud. We are what we are, and we're not ashamed," Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh said the fairgrounds were chosen to accommodate COVID-19 safety measures, with a large covered outdoor area to allow social distancing.

"We tried to make this as safe and accessible as we possibly could, so we're hoping that (it) is inclusive of our even more vulnerable communities; the disabled and immunocompromised in the LGTBQ community," Cavanaugh said.

The demonstration will take place from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 25, followed by the celebration and picnic from 3 to 7 p.m. at the fairgrounds, 58892 Saulser Road in St. Helens.

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