Pride month events are returning to Fairbanks. A newly formed queer-centric group, The Frozen Sisters, is resurrecting a month of events in June to commemorate Pride, a global celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
It’s not the first time Fairbanks has hosted Pride events, but it’s been approximately 20 years since an organization has set up a month dedicated to the celebration.
“I know there have been scattered events through the years at The (Blue) Loon or the UAF Pub, but it’s been at least 20 to 25 years, we think, since there has been a bonafide Pride month,” said Alex Thornton, founder of The Frozen Sisters. “I miss having visible Pride. Especially after this past year, there is a need,” he said, referencing the mayoral veto of Fairbanks city ordinance 6093, an equality ordinance that proposed protections for employment, housing and public accommodations for LGBTQ residents as well as creating a means to challenge discriminatory practices in court.
In the United States, June is designated as Pride month to honor the Stonewall riots, in which police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gathering spot for gay and gender-nonconforming New Yorkers, on June 28, 1969. The resistance to that raid was led by two trans women, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who fought back against police that night in Greenwich Village. The riots are often credited with being the start of the LGBTQ rights movement in the United States.
In Fairbanks, Thornton’s group, The Frozen Sisters, is using Pride month for an additional reason: They’re hosting Pride events as a service project to gain affiliation with the global nonprofit organization The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The group, often just called The Sisters, frequently uses drag and religious imagery to promote a camp aspect to their charitable works, which include emergency grants for LGBTQ people, raising money and awareness for AIDS-related organizations, and serving the community.
“We’re here, and we’re a part of the community in so many ways,” Thornton said. “Fairbanks prides itself on being strong and independent but forgets there are these other communities.”
Pride in Fairbanks
The centerpiece of Fairbanks Pride will be a community celebration June 15-16 in Ester Community Park. The weekend is a lineup of performers, singers, dancers, drag performances, vendors, and community and nonprofit booths and agencies. The event isn’t the only activity for Fairbanks Pride, but it’s one of the biggest during June. It’s free to attend, and open to the public.
“We’re trying to do a little bit of everything — outdoors events, book clubs, movie nights,” Thornton said. “It’s not just barhopping. It’s us as a group going, ‘Where do we go from here?’”
Thornton created a website — www.fairybanks.com — with a listing of activities, ranging from a Chena River float to hiking Angel Rocks to queer empowerment speakers and public talks. Vendors and sponsors are still signing on, he said, and he’s being contacted somewhat regularly by people and groups looking to participate.
“Pride was a riot, not just a great time,” he said, referencing Stonewall. “It’s time to come together and see what we can make better. This is for everybody, our allies, too. Everyone is welcome.”
Pride in the past
Before The Frozen Sisters, another local group, PFLAG — Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — was often at the helm of Pride events in Fairbanks.
PFLAG hosted June Pride events from the early 1990s to about 2000, said Pete Pinney, a longtime community member and current PFLAG treasurer.
“We would march around downtown, all 50 to 75 of us radical gay people, on empty streets,” Pinney said.
That marching was followed by a potluck afterward in a local park. Eventually, PFLAG switched to marching in the Golden Days Parade in July, where it still maintains a presence, as well as setting up community booths at the Midnight Sun Festival and Tanana Valley State Fair.
“We switched to the Golden Days Parade for more visibility during marriage amendment days,” Pinney said. “Over the years, the chamber of commerce came to expect us — even asked where our application was if we were getting close to the deadline. Then we had thousands of people seeing our message.”
Now, with a new group stepping up, Pinney is admiring the effort and happy the message is still getting out.
“We love the idea of Pride events,” he said. “And PFLAG didn’t have to be the only one having them. So we were glad to see The Frozen Sisters putting in the effort. We are maintaining our parade presence and even going back to the fair this year after a couple years off.”
For Thornton, the month is a chance for the city and community to come together to celebrate each other — gay, straight, bi, trans or queer — and look at the past, present and future of the LGBTQ community.
“We kind of want to make this everything,” Thornton said. “We’re trying to include a space for everyone at Pride.”
For more information about Fairbanks Pride events, slated for every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday in June, visit www.fairybanks.com.
Contact Features Editor Gary Black at 459-7504 or on Twitter at twitter.com/FDNMfeatures.