‘That is where our power is’: Missoula Pride paves the way for action (2024)

Despite chilly, rainy and windy weather, Missoula Pride took over downtown Missoula over the weekend with a clear message: Take action.

The third annual Pride celebration filled the streets for two days with parade floats, vendors, food trucks and live performances. But in the midst of anti-LGBTQ+ policies nationwide, Pride was not just a party.

“(Pride) is a space where we connect with people, recognize the origins of Pride as protest, and make sure that when we go back out into the world that we are fighting for the change that we want to see in the world,” Rep. Zooey Zephyr said during Friday’s Pride rally.

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She was among several LGBTQ+ advocates urging Missoulians to take action this Pride season. Rae Senarighi, a transgender painter and activist who created the art for this year’s Pride, encouraged attendees to stay hopeful, even though the world could feel scary and overwhelming.

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“It’s really easy to feel hopeless and helpless, but I have to say that is exactly what systems of power want us to feel,” Senarighi said. “They want us to feel isolated, and they want us to feel powerless. But our power is collective.”

Senarighi, who is originally from Missoula but now lives in Wisconsin, told attendees that by being together and leading with love, they could create a better future. He emphasized the importance of small acts of visibility and support, such as wearing a pro-LGBTQ+ shirt or keeping a Pride flag in front of one’s house.

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“There is no grand gesture that will save us. There is no single person who is gonna ride up and save us,” Senarighi said. “We, each of us, individually, every day, taking small ordinary action, that is where our power is. That is where the community is.”

Andy Nelson, executive director of the Western Montana LGBTQ+ Community Center, said it was amazing to see so many people in attendance, especially because many were there as allies to the community.

“It’s heartwarming to see, because sometimes people are nervous to even come out. They want to support but they’re nervous about people coming up to disrupt our safety,” Nelson said. “This turnout makes my heart very happy to see that, because so many of these people are not just part of the community, they’re allies as well.”

Mayor Andrea Davis, who spoke at Friday’s rally, described herself as an ally and advocate for equality. Davis praised Missoula Pride for the event and said she was proud to be in attendance.

“It’s a privilege to stand alongside you and to support you in your challenges and your freedoms,” Davis said. “The city of Missoula is your ally.”

After more than 40 events this Pride season, many of them educational sessions meant to educate allies on the LGBTQ+ community, Nelson said he wants people to do something with what they’ve learned about the community and its struggles.

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“I hope people take this as not only a fun, amazing event but a call to action to support this community,” he said.

Some attendees did not wait until Pride was over to take action. As Mayor Davis began her speech at the rally on Friday, a group of protesters lined up silently in front of the main stage. They held signs with messages like “Homelessness is a policy choice” and “Don’t ban camping day or night.”

The signs referenced an resolution passed by the Missoula City Council on June 11 that places new restrictions on urban encampments on public property. Both Zephyr and Akilah Deernose, executive director of the ACLU of Montana, criticized the resolution in their speeches, citing the Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ community’s vulnerability to homelessness.

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“For a city that claims to be welcoming of diversity and caring of the Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA community, that policy actually does the opposite, right?” Deernose said, encouraging those booing in the crowd to boo louder.

It was not the only policy to receive criticism. Deernose listed three cases the ACLU of Montana is currently working on involving state policies that ban sex marker changes on birth certificates, block gender-affirming care for transgender youth and require parental notification when sexuality and gender identity is discussed in schools.

“It is up to us to ensure that we do not let our local officials, our state officials, our government, especially here in Montana, push laws and policies that push out into the margins our queer siblings. We can not let that happen,” Deernose said. “Instead, what we need to do is push for policies and laws that center community care and that bring people out of the margins and back into the hands and arms of community.”

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Zephyr also emphasized the need to stand up for marginalized people. She was one of several speakers at Friday’s rally to bring up Palestine and specifically criticized the city council’s decision in January to table a cease-fire resolution regarding the Israel-Hamas war.

“It is incumbent on us to stand up and tell our electives that if they ignore all of our suffering, if they ignore suffering in any form, they harm our community,” Zephyr said.

Although Zephyr encouraged queer Missoulians to take action, she also spoke about taking time to recharge. Zephyr described Pride as a refuge queer people can escape to, where they can be their authentic selves and feel safe in the community.

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Seven years ago, Zephyr, who is a transgender woman, attended her first Pride in Helena and dressed as her authentic self for the first time, she recalled. Now, she told the crowd she’d just looked at wedding venues with her fiancée earlier in the day.

“That is a spirit of joy that while those who hate us can do many things, they can not take away the love for ourselves, and they can not take away the love for our community,” she said.

Zephyr said that she hoped attendees took the weekend to feel and share that love within the community and to recharge before facing the world again.

“As you go out into the world this weekend, I hope you feel rejuvenated, and I hope you feel ready to fight back against the laws that are targeting our community, and I hope you feel ready to change the f****** world,” Zephyr said.

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Alexia Partouche is a news intern for the Missoulian.

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‘That is where our power is’: Missoula Pride paves the way for action (2024)

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