“End of the Road” in Fairbanks is the Beginning of a Movement for Alaska

Pride Foundation staff—Josh Hemsath, Regional Development Organizer in Alaska, and Kris Hermanns, Executive Director—recently had the opportunity to participate in the Fairbanks, Alaska long-standing community festival Golden Days.

Amanda Meyer, Josh, Kelly Tabor
Amanda Meyer, Josh, Kelly Tabor

“In Fairbanks we are somewhat isolated from many of the opportunities Anchorage and other cities have. While I am actively involved with the Pride Foundation, it is rare that I actually get direct face-to-face interaction with staff, so this trip was extra special for me,” said Kara Carlson, Pride Foundation scholar alumnus.

This echoes a sentiment shared by others that Fairbanks often feels like the northernmost “end of the road” in Alaska.

Fairbanks is host to a growing LGBTQ community movement represented by Interior Alaskans Coming Together (IACT), an intergenerational coalition of existing LGBTQ-serving organizations including local middle school, high school, and university Gay-Straight Alliances, and Fairbanks PFLAG. IACT came together as an outcome of a statewide convening Pride Foundation helped organize in fall 2012.

Several years ago, Fairbanks PFLAG leadership made the bold decision to participate in Golden Days, a widely visible Chamber of Commerce event, rather than create a separate pride festival. Josh and Kris participated in the monthly IACT meeting and helped to build the Fairbanks PFLAG float for the Golden Days parade.

Golden Days Float Marshals
Golden Days Float Marshals

In anticipation of the Golden Days weekend, Fairbanks-based Pride Foundation volunteers and supporters Nicole Cundiff, Pete Pinney, and Adam Ottavi also hosted a celebration of 20 Years of Pride Foundation Scholars at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fairbanks. This celebration was made possible thanks to their generosity, as well as the support of local businesses Odom Corporation, Southern Wine and Spirits, and Lavelle’s Bistro.

At the celebration, participants heard from local scholars and volunteers like Kara, as well as Pride Foundation staff like Josh and Kris. Those in attendance were able to feel the impact of scholarships in rural and remote communities like Fairbanks.

“One of the things that truly moved me was the GLBT and allies response to the Pride Foundation’s reception; many people approached me very invigorated,” said Dr. Nicole Cundiff, IACT chair. “I could tell that the motivation and energy from this event will continue into the future, allowing us to further our plans for embracing equality in our local area.”

“Investment, hope, belief in yourself, those are things that produce amazing and that is what the Pride Foundation does,” said Kara. “They produce ‘Amazing’ in their scholars, their donors, their grant recipients, their volunteers, their staff!”

Pride Foundation’s weekend concluded with the Golden Days parade the following morning. The Fairbanks PFLAG float was among a range of entries including supportive organizations like the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fairbanks.

“When I first arrived on site Saturday morning, walking in this parade as the only LGBTQ contingent left me a bit nervous, especially when looking around at the other 99 parade entries,” said Kris Hermanns, Pride Foundation Executive Director. “And yet, this might have been one of the most moving experiences of my professional career given the positive support we received all along the parade route.”

Each year the Golden Days parade changes its theme. For 2013, the theme was “Gold Fashioned Fun.” PFLAG represented this in their wedding-inspired float: “Marriage is Timeless.”

In addition to a nearly forty-foot rainbow flag, the float also featured the DJ talents of local Clear Channel Radio personality, Kelly Tabor. Prominently featured in her playlist was Macklemore’s “Same Love,” which inspired a positive reaction from parade watchers.

“I couldn’t help but tear up seeing tough oil men and fishermen and their families rooting for us and their kids dancing along,” said Kris. “It surely leaves an imprint.”

“We have such a unique opportunity right now to harness the positive energy from changes happening in the Lower 48, and use that to invigorate the equality movement locally, and continue to be a positive resource for parents, family, and friends of LGBTQ Alaskans,” said Kelly.

Josh is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Alaska. Email Josh.

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