For Thomas Oliver and Jeffrey Chandler, taking their 8-year-old son Zyreal to the Kitsap Pride Festival on Saturday was just another family outing in the park.
“We’re just like an old married couple,” Oliver said of he and his partner, describing weekly church outings and dinners with grandma. “This is probably the most gay thing we do every year.”
That sentiment was shared by other attendees of the Pride Festival at Evergreen Rotary Park, who said the celebration was Kitsap’s only recognition of gays and allies, heterosexuals who support equal rights for gays.
Elaine Priest, who came with friends and children, said the low-key and fun environment is why the Kitsap festival appeals to her.
“You see other people with their families,” she said. “That’s what I like.”
The event marked its sixth year at Evergreen Park — in the early years starting about 13 years ago, the festival was much smaller and took place in Seabeck and Port Orchard. Now the festival includes more than 40 vendors, play space and face painting for children, live music and a drag show and attracts up to 500 people, said Marcie Mathis, an organizer of the event.
Melissa Evans, who came with her daughter Amanda, said gay culture has become more open in Kitsap. About 10 to 15 years ago, people were not as comfortable expressing their identity, she said.
“It’s just not as taboo as it used to be,” Evans said. “I just feel a lot more open than I used to be.”
Nonetheless, the gay culture in Kitsap is not vocal and visible as what might be seen in Seattle, Amanda Evans said.
“We’re pretty open. It’s not to the point where you have to be out and loud,” she said.
Amy Parkhurst, who came with her family, said this was the first year she’d heard of the Kitsap Pride Festival and she wanted to show her support.
Playing with her young neice, Ava Wilson, near the children’s play area, Parkhurst said she also appreciates the family-friendly environment of Kitsap Pride.
“It’s great, we love it,” she said. “We think there should be a lot more.”