EDITORIAL: Who Belongs at Pride?

Guest Author: Nikolai Serban

I’m profoundly disappointed in Eugene Pride over their lack of accountability over some of their board member’s hostile and hateful positions towards our community. I’m disgusted that they lack mechanisms to have such behavior removed, and for their total lack of outspoken support for the kink community that has come under attack by one of their own.

In August of this year, I wasn’t even planning on attending the physical march. With the pandemic continuing, and the Delta variant becoming more of an issue—even for vaccinated people—I had resigned to spend Eugene’s late Pride celebration at home watching Queer movies.

That all changed when I saw the rules that had been posted on Facebook. “No signs…no political messages…” and the biggest—for me at least—“No gear or paraphernalia.” I was shocked, but I withheld feeling any outrage because these rules were pretty vague, so I decided to ask for clarification. Scrolling through the comments, I saw that it had already been made abundantly clear what Eugene Pride meant by these rules.

“What does ‘no gear’ refer to?” one community member had asked. Eugene Pride responded: “It’s referring to kink gear. While we are not anti-kink at Pride, we are mindful of consent and creating a safe space for everyone. We are happy to have a more in-depth conversation, if desired.” And, in a subsequent response to another person, “…pup play, BDSM gear, and other things would not be appropriate at this event… This is a family friendly event”

The message was crystal clear. Kink is unsafe. Kink is obscene. Kink gear, and the open, public display of such things is inappropriate for children to see. For the children’s sake… as it so often is. Where have you heard such ideas before? Oh, that’s right. Proposition 9. 

For those of you who either don’t know Oregon’s history on this, or don’t quite remember, I’ll save you the Google search. Oregon Ballot Measure 9 was a ballot measure back in 1992 that conflated BDSM, gay rights, and pedophilia. It would have added the following text to the Oregon Constitution:

“All governments in Oregon may not use their monies or properties to promote, encourage or facilitate homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism or masochism. All levels of government, including public education systems, must assist in setting a standard for Oregon’s youth which recognizes that these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided.”

That bill was shot down by an uncomfortably small majority in 1992 but its legacy and impact can still be felt today. The Oregon Citizens Alliance went on to introduce a series of watered-down ballot measures along the same lines, and continue to attempt to introduce the language into local ballots in rural counties such as Douglas, Linn, and Klamath Counties, as well as in cities such as Canby and Junction City.

To see this kind of language coming from the Eugene Pride organization turned my stomach and I decided to protest it. 

I went, in Pup gear, with a sign, and I sought out the board members in the park. That’s when I met Marlie Heberling, a board member at-large. Talking with her, it became abundantly clear that she, personally, was the one who managed and wrote the offensive messages and had put out the rules. 

I tried to ask her about these rules, and to illustrate to her why they were offensive, and she had security called on me for “being dangerous” who tried to have me removed from the event. At this point Vincent Mays, the vice president of the organization intervened and put a stop to that. I don’t know Vincent well, but we’ve been Facebook friends for years. Eugene is a small town, so, as you can imagine, it makes this betrayal all that much more poignant.

I spoke with Vincent at some length, and essentially got a picture painted for me of an organization in total disarray. He claimed that the rules had gone out at the last second by Marlie and been approved without really anyone looking over them. He claimed that Marlie had taken a discussion about making hate groups unwelcome to push her personal anti-kink agenda, and that no one caught it before it went out and got printed onto signs, posted on social media, etc… essentially “it was the intern.”

I was assured that the rules would come down (a lot of good that will do after the event) and that Eugene Pride would apologize to the kink community for Marlie’s actions. To date, as of when I’m writing this in late October, two “apologies” have been issued. One written by Marlie using the Eugene Pride organization’s name that, essentially, is a “sorry not sorry you got butt hurt” and a more official apology from the board which, again, was a “we’re sorry you felt excluded, and not an apology for an, apparently, rogue member attempting to actually exclude us, which she did. 

She’s still on the board, too. I met with Bill Sullivan, the now former president of the organization and beloved drag performer here in Eugene, and was surprised to hear how much deeper the “shit storm” ran. According to him, he quit the board, in part over this. He told me that he was horrified when he saw what had been going on on social media, and yelled at the board members, Marlie included, over letting this happen. 

He went on to tell me that there’s no bylaw mechanism to have someone booted off the board, and that to address Marlie’s behavior, the board is seeking to separate the public relations role from the web management and advertising position — but this obviously leaves Marlie in a position she has no right to be sitting in. 

I attended the Oct. 24 meeting, but the struggle was real to get time to speak. I was the only community member who got any time in the end, despite my knowing that I was not the only person who emailed in advance to get time. Marlie, of course, manages the emails… So who can say which of our emails magically disappeared. Mine did. The only reason I got time is because I privately messaged Vice President Mays and got it secured by him.

I’ll paraphrase what I said at the meeting, which only lasted a bit under 20 minutes and had no accountability whatsoever from any of the board members. 

Kink is an integral part of what Pride is. We were illegal. Parts of our community are still illegal. We fight legal battles every day because according to the cisgender, heteronormative block, we should return to the closet and hide ourselves for not adhering to their draconian dogma. 

None of us can stop our fellows from harboring these views, nor should we exclude individuals because of them. The LGBTQ+ community doesn’t have just one political ideology, or one anything. We’re diverse in every way imaginable. But people who seek to exclude any of us do not belong on a board that exists for all of us. Pride organizations exist to represent the Queer people of their community, and, as it stands, Eugene Pride’s organization doesn’t live up to that.

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