Big Sky Pride kicks off today in Billings. It’s the first time in nine years that the state’s annual pride festivities will take place in our region’s largest urban center. YPR’s Brie Ripley spoke with members of the festival planning committee about the festival’s history and what folks can expect from this weekend’s celebration.
*This story has been updated since original publication 6/16/17 at 2:45 p.m. for clarity; an original version did not make clear who the members of the Big Sky Pride Festival planning committee were.
Cole Kortum is a bear. Gay, bearded men like Kortum, a Colstrip worker, sometimes call themselves "bears." Many of these guys, gals and gender non-binary folks are headed to Billings this weekend for the annual Big Sky Pride festival.
Billings Mayor Tom Hanel recently issued a Pride Proclamation, an important document affirming the safety of those who participate in Pride Festival activities. It is co-written every year between members of the festivals planning committee and members of city council, wherever the weekend-long festivities are held.
Walt Donges of Billings helped draft the rhetoric for it.
“Pride Proclamation is important because it sets the stage for the city and how they’re going to embrace the guests,” said Donges.
“We are hoping for at least 3,000 guests to come the city to partake in this celebration and the proclamation in and of itself recognizes families, recognizes that we are all one community in Billings, and the work that’s being done, and that we are safe here as we celebrate our diversity.”
The proclamation is especially important because in 2014 the Billings City Council did not pass a Non-Discrimination Ordinance that would have protected LGBTQ-identifying folks.
Shauna Goubeaux, who is also a member of the festival planning committee, says that this year’s proclamation is opening the door to moving equality in the city.
“And it’s the foundation for us building permanent LGBTQ community resources here in Billings as part of Pride but safety is an issue in Billings and all across Montana because we are more of a conservative state,” said Goubeaux.
Goubeaux and her wife, Nicole, were litigants in the 2014 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Great Falls seeking to overturn the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
The Great Falls Tribune reports that on Nov. 19, 2014, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled Montana’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to between a man and a woman violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, U.S. Senator John Tester (D-MT) said, “Montanans believe in the right to make a good life for their families,” regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state. “And denying some couples the right to marry denies them happiness and equal protection under the law. It’s time our laws reflect our values,” Tester said.
The Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states in a 5-4 ruling June 26, 2015.
“People fear things that are different," said Goubeaux. "So sometimes they think that LGBTQ people are different, and hopefully, with this Pride celebration, they’ll see that we’re just the same members of the community that they see every day. They’ll see us with our children and our grandchildren and our spouses and our friends, having a huge party, just celebrating what it’s all about. But it’s important to remember that Pride was a riot. It was founded by a riot to prevent persecution for LGBTQ people and that’s part of our history.”
The riots that Goubeaux refer to took place on June 28, 1969 in New York City. They’re called “The Stonewall Riots” because they started at the Stonewall Inn, a popular bar and kind of safe haven for LGBTQ folks. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Pride Festival’s across the nation are a way to remember the senseless violence, discrimination and raids by police on LGBTQ folks at perceived safe spaces – like nightclubs, and bars like the Stonewall Inn.
“The patrons of that bar stood up and fought back I think for three days of rioting and that was the birth of what we call ‘The Pride Movement – The Gay Movement,'” said Donges, who remembers watching the riots on TV when he was 10-years-old.
Annual Pride Festivals are also a celebration of how far the LGBTQ community have come in their efforts, and their allies efforts, for inclusivity and equality.
For this year’s Big Sky Pride Festival, the focus is on family.
In addition to Goubeaux, Morgan Ditto, Kim Harris, along with Casey and Kathleen O’Donnell have been working since November to plan over 40 events celebrating Pride this weekend.
They have planned specific activities and events geared towards teenagers and children, along with copious adult fun. Events are ongoing between Fri. and Sun. at various businesses and venues in Billings. The public is invited.