The annual Pride Picnic has changed quite a bit in its 31 years of existence.
Initially a fundraiser for those battling AIDS, the picnic is now a celebration of Juneau’s LGBTQ community. Dozens gathered at Savikko Park on Sunday for the event, grilling burgers, toasting marshmallows and playing volleyball.
The picnic also included the presentation of the Mildred Boesser Equal Rights Award, given to a community member who has advocated for LGBTQ rights. Boesser, who died in 2015, was a longtime advocate in Juneau.
This year, the award went to City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member Jesse Kiehl, who was instrumental in drafting and passing the city’s equal rights ordinance last summer. Kiehl spoke for a few minutes upon accepting the award, saying the community deserves recognition, not him, for the ordinance that passed by an 8-1 vote in August.
“I can prattle on, but I think an 8-1 vote says all we need to say,” Kiehl said as those in the room applauded. “It’s not really me. It’s the town we live in.”
Kiehl wasn’t the only one who felt that way Sunday, as multiple people on hand talked about how open and accepting the community of Juneau is. Sam Roberts, an attendee at the picnic, wasn’t sure what to expect when he moved to Juneau from Ohio nearly three years ago. He was impressed and a little surprised at how accepting the community has proven to be.
James Hoagland, a board member of the Southeast Alaska Gay & Lesbian Alliance (SEAGLA), has also been pleased at the community’s response to events like the picnic. He’s helped SEAGLA expand its events during Pride Month (every June), and has seen the events become popular even for those beyond the LGBTQ community.
As he looked around at the mix of younger and older attendees Sunday, he expressed hope for the future.
“Now we’re here every year just celebrating the community and achievements in history over time and supporting a lot of young people here today,” Hoagland said. “Making sure that they feel safe and supported in school is really important, letting them know that there are allies in the adult community as well who care about them.”
Hoagland was one of a handful of speakers who talked about Kiehl’s work on the equal rights ordinance, which forbids discrimination based on age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and other identifiers. Another of the speakers was Sara Boesser, the daughter of the late namesake of the award.
Sara, who is an open lesbian, spoke about the variety of roles her mother played in her life, from friend to advocate. In a time when it was risky for her to do so, Mildred was a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights and wasn’t afraid of the consequences, Sara explained. She said she sees some of those same traits in Kiehl.
“Jesse is also friendly that way,” Boesser said, turning to Kiehl. “You can work both sides, you can be a bridge between things, between people. You listen so well. You’re a mediator. You bring people together. Mildred would be proud of you.”
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