It’s been over 20 years since I left my home town of Billings, Montana. At that time I was still in the “closet” to my friends and family. I didn’t know any other gay people nor did I have any gay role models. After high school I heard rumors about a gay bar. This place was in the middle of nowhere and miles from town. Square dancing during the week and only on weekends after dark did they turn on their rainbow sign. There were no LGBTQ centers, no Gay-Straight Alliances, no resources. I try to imagine what it would be like to move back to my hometown today. I ask myself: what would I do and how I would make an impact after being part of a larger and more active community in Spokane Washington? What would you do if you were to move from a large, more visible community to a smaller rural community where not much was happening? Here is a story of one such return and what she and her partner hopes to accomplish.
Born and raised in Moses Lake, WA, Rachel Valdez doesn’t recall there being a LGBTQ community. She remembers hearing seldom, but extremely negative or ignorant comments being made when anyone talked about LGBTQ people. She would hear things like “gay people only live in San Francisco” or “those people are evil and are going to hell”. Coming from a strong religious family and living in a community with similar religious views, Rachel felt repressed by the social and cultural structures. It was the early days of the internet, few people had computers, and there were no LGBTQ related books in the library. Rachel craved resources and a supportive community. Pride Foundation, which was founded in late 1985, wasn’t even around until she graduated high school. With little resources or positive influences Rachel couldn’t wait to finish high school, leave town, and go off to college. Looking back on her life in Moses Lake, Rachel commented “I had to have been pretty lonely on the inside.”
Rachel left her home of eighteen years and moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington where, in her eyes, she found the gay mecca. This is where Rachel finally felt comfortable enough to “come out.” Rachel, like most of us, has fallen in and out of love a few times, including two long term relationships. Rachel is now with the love of her life, Tamara, who she has known for over 10 years. They are ready to make their life in Rachel’s hometown of Moses Lake.
When I asked Rachel why she and Tamara were moving back to Moses Lake, she replied, “To be with family and because we would like to retire in a smaller community. It’s important for me to know and understand what it’s like to live in a rural community.” Rachel wants to be a resource for LGBTQ people in the Columbia Basin Region. She has met individuals who feel they can’t talk to their parents about their sexuality, especially being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer, and hopes that she and Tamara can help.
Rachel would like to see more support and safe spaces in Moses Lake and the surrounding communities; where individuals can be who they are and where they may even one day celebrate these individuals with a local pride parade. Right now, that’s hard to imagine. At the local high school it is not at all uncommon to hear “fag” or other homophobic insults and to see students being bullied with little support from the school administration. Rachel and Tamara envision a place where this wouldn’t happen, where people feel safe in their own community, a place where they feel safe enough to hold hands in public like they did when living in Seattle.
Rachel is the Vice President as well as Chair of Marketing and Communications on the Pride Foundation Board of Directors. She is passionate about education and has been volunteering with Pride Foundation’s scholarship program for over 10 years. As a Pride Foundation Board Member Rachel would like to evangelize resources that Pride Foundation offers and educate more people on the impact that Pride Foundation is making across a five-state region. As a part of Pride Foundation and in their personal lives, Rachel and Tamara want to be role models as “out and proud” individuals who lead by example. Rachel and Tamara are already active in the community, both currently sit on the board of the Columbia Basin Allied Arts, and own a graphics design business.
On March 8, Rachel and Tamara Valdez are opening up their home for a Pride Foundation House Party with the goal of connecting other LGBTQ and Allied people in the area. They hope to raise awareness about the many opportunities Pride Foundation offers and resources that are available. Rachel and Tamara intend to raise money to put back into the LGBTQ and Allied community in Eastern Washington and help strengthen equality. Click here for more information about this event.
“Moses Lake and the surrounding area are growing and we want to be part of shaping what that community looks like. We want to start developing a stronger community.”
Farand Gunnels is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Eastern Washington. Email Farand.