EDITORIAL: The Youth Zone and Family Inclusiveness At Eugene Pride 2022

As any longtime resident of Eugene knows, there is a serious shortage of wallet-friendly events throughout the year. Concerts, art shows, plays, and even athletic events are all typically costly — and even more so for those with children. 

Eugene Pride, while usually a somewhat small event, offers the general public an entirely free opportunity to gather and celebrate in true Pride fashion. Colors, sparkles—a lot of sequins—music, food, families, and of course, pets. 

And this year, the Eugene Pride staff and volunteers surpassed all previous years’ events. 

From the parade beginning at Spectrum, marching its way through the streets of Downtown Eugene, across the Peter DeFazio Bridge, and into Alton Baker Park, to the massive rainbow tent in front of the central stage, there was absolutely nothing about this year’s Pride event that was quiet. Concert performers, music, and dancing all led to an atmosphere of joy and celebration. 

With dozens of vendors offering prizes, educational opportunities, goods to sell, and even fun stuff for children such as face-painting and temporary tattoos, wandering around the entire park could conceivably take all day.

As it was meant to.

In speaking with Eugene Pride Vice President Marlie Heberling, I learned that this year’s Pride Event made specific plans to provide a safe and inclusive space for children and families. Not just booths or vendors that offered a thing here or an activity there, but rather an entirely independent area of the whole event, partitioned off just for children. With this dedicated area—named the Youth Zone—Eugene Pride sought to include various organizations within the youth umbrella that would come and provide activities to all event goers. More than 20 vendors agreed to come and lend their support.

What made this effort unique to our community is that all of these vendors came to Pride with activities for children and families to do together entirely for free. The inspiration behind this new and exciting feature of Eugene Pride was the knowledge that inclusivity means more than just who is represented. It’s also about providing the community with activities that are not hidden behind a paywall. As an added benefit, the entire Youth Zone was made as a place for families to come and spend the entire day, not just a small portion of time in this expansive event. 

“I wanted this to be the thing they came to do today.” Heberling explained. 

Of course, Eugene Pride Staff were only part of what made all of this possible. Countless hours from volunteers were put to work to create this vision, along with the efforts to recruit vendors and plan the layout of the vast space at Alton Baker Park made the framework for this event possible. But local organizations like TransPonder donated time, staff, and resources as well. NW Pride sponsored the art space and Lane County Health and Human Services sponsored the ADA accessibility modifications made to the park, ensuring the most inclusive event to date.

A tall, white blow-up unicorn with bright pink hair and tail stands on the grass. There's a hose attached to the front of it and droplets of water can be seen coming from the creature.
Unicorn Sprinkler for the Family Zone, provided by an anonymous donor from Eugene Pride 2022’s Amazon Dream List. [Mia Storm // Double Sided Media]

A walk around the Youth Zone provided games for kids to play, finger painting at the Eugene Toy and Hobby booth, free pictures with a balloon rainbow background provided by Bubble Social Balloons, a Make-Your-Own-Button booth, Ultimate Frisbee with assistance by the coach of Eugene Middle School, a Dancing Through Life class by Flex Studios, and a Unicorn Sprinkler bought and donated anonymously from Eugene Pride’s Amazon Dream List.

Three people wearing matching outfits and sunglasses sit on a bench in front of colorful balloon art. In front of them is a large iPad type device on a tripod. Behind the tripod is a photographer wearing a white shortsleeve shirt and blue denim shorts with fannypack.
Pride visitors Sarah Micheli, Maddie Taber, and Patrick Gorman get their photo taken by Mahealani ‘Mahea’ Cameron of Bubble Social Balloons. [Mia Storm // Double Sided Media]

As a parent myself, I know firsthand how hard it is to attend major events or celebrations with young children. Anything that says “family friendly” is usually referring to an atmosphere that is, at a minimum, non-violent and at best, includes activities that children can join in. Unfortunately, once the coloring sheets are already colored, any offered toys have all been given a good once-over, and new friends begin to leave, many children get bored and want to go home, or to just move on to something new and ‘more fun’.

But Eugene Pride 2022 was exactly what the staff, volunteers, and organizations that came to show support for the LGBTQIA+ community had planned and hoped for. 

It was safe, inclusive, fun, and bright. Small children could run through the sprinkler without fear of being stepped on and parents could take a small step back and feel safe just watching their children play. 

My own daughter told me the first activity she got excited about, as a “gender fluent” child (her word for “gender fluid”), was the Make-Your-Own-Button booth. Since the event, she has proudly displayed her Gender “Fluent” button on her backpack and outfits. 

Eugene Pride 2022 was more than “family friendly” or “family inclusive.” It was crafted for families. 

I cannot wait to see what they do next year.

Mia Storm

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