Pride Fest at North Eugene High School Undeterred by Evangelical Protest

The month of June is known as “Pride Month” across the country, paying homage to the Stonewall Uprising in 1969. That uprising was a “tipping point” for LGBTQIA+ individuals and the Gay Liberation Movement. Due to their determination, people today enjoy more freedom as people can now choose their own destiny, and choose to live outside of society’s tiny boxes. 

In recognition of that day, North Eugene High School held their second annual Pride event on June 2. 

Just before 3:00 p.m. students, teachers, staff, and families were lined up waiting to go in. The turnout was bigger than last year and the combination of the large crowd and hot sun coupled with the shade-less AstroTurf field kept the line long at the Kona Ice food truck. 

That food truck was joined by Irie Jamaican Kitchen and Kento’s Japanese Hibachi. Pride-goers also delighted in other fair food staples like cotton candy, watermelon, and popcorn. 

Info and merch tables were spread out on three sides of the football field. Folks were selling handmade jewelry, stickers, and clothing. The lines were also long for the face painting booths.

Other tables offered information about local nonprofits and businesses like the Eugene Library, 15th Night, Eugene Area Gleaners, Sexual Assault Support Services, and Adventure! Children’s Museum. The clothing swap was a huge attraction for students looking to trade up their clothes for something new, at least, new to them.

The event organizers also paid tribute to those that made an impact on the LGBTQIA+ community with an “Ancestor Altar.”  

  • A photo of a sign next to the Queer Ancestor Altar that says "Please honor silently;" "feel free to take pictures;"" please do not tough the food or other offerings."
  • A photo of a table draped with a floral-type Pride flag. On the table are two vases of orange flowers, a plate of edible offerings for an altar, and about 20 framed photographs of deceased Queer icons with white paper labels. They go from left-to-right: Bayard Rustin, Sylvia Rivera, James Baldwin, Marsha P. Johnson, Audre Lourde and Sappho of Lesbos
  • Two individuals from the Eugene Area Gleaners pose for the camera while sitting at their table/booth on the black running track that loops the football field.
  • A photograph of countless pairs of different types of shoes sitting on a table.
  • A photo of a section of the clothing swap that shows sweatshirts and wintery clothes stacked high on a table nearest the camera. On the other side of a gap in between tables are high stacks of pants, shorts, etc.

The event schedule was bumped back from its start time by half-an-hour and, during the space in-between, a student lead band played snappy covers to entertain the growing crowd. 

At 3:30 p.m., the opening ceremony began with a land acknowledgement spoken in three different languages followed by another student band and then the Raging Grannies!

Four older woman wearing colorful clothing and hats (some decorated) hold lyric sheets as they sing into the air towards the football field at NEHS.
The local Raging Grannies perform onstage at the District 4J Pride Fest at North Eugene High School on June 2, 2023. [Robert Scherle // Double Sided Media]

Drag performances were provided by students from Kelly Middle School and NEHS. The Gay Men’s Chorus followed spoken word performed by a student teacher. And the Haus of La Faye— a local drag troop led by Monique La Faye featuring Chloe San Carlos and Uranus The Fool—rounded out the show. 

  • A closer shot of the EGMC shows the choir's conductor at left guiding the choir in front of him in song.
  • The Eugene Gay Men's Choir, about 20ish, perform onstage. One is in front at left and seated at an electronic keyboard.
Three fabulous drag queens look towards the camera. Monique, at left, is wearing a metallic-esque black dress with bright red and white flower pedals and large hooped earrings. Chloe, at middle, is wearing a short, soft-looking light-pink dress and black belt. Uranus, at right, is wearing a dark green dress and has a pair of large framed sunglasses on their head.
The Haus of Faye’s Monique La Faye, Chloe San Carlos, and Uranus the Fool prior to their performance at the District 4J Pride Fest at North Eugene High School on June 2, 2023. [Robert Scherle // Double Sided Media]

Much like last year, this year’s event was a bright, fun, and cheerful occasion. However, due to conservative “outrage” on social media the event didn’t escape evangelical protest.

Footage—specifically a 19-second-long clip—from the previous year’s event was taken from DSM’s reporting and used without permission on social media by parents offended by the Pride event. Conservative Christians view events involving drag to be inherently sexual and wrong, ultimately a sin that folks need to be saved from.

Libs of Tik Tok also posted about the event on Twitter, receiving responses that included a GIF of someone loading a machine gun.

The newly formed political action committee Kids for Success stirred the controversy as well and asked parents to email the board to demand that Eugene School District 4J cancel the event. 

Ibra Taher, the groups founder and political action director with Free Oregon, called the event “inappropriate” and claimed the district was pushing “ideologies” in schools. He asked parents to speak out against the event in next week’s district meeting—notably after the Pride event— and encouraged folks to sign up quickly.

KEZI9 reported on the controversy after posts were made on social media from concerned conservative parents. The conservative backlash caused the district to remove the event flier from their account.

Jenna McCulley, the district’s director of communications, told KEZI9 that event coordinators were “getting negative and hateful comments towards themselves and the district.” Those comments led to the decision to remove the post. KEZI9’s reporting further stated that the event gained national attention due to the inclusion of drag performances.  

Prior to KEZI9’s report, a Sinclair-owned broadcast network, The National Desk, was the first to report on the controversy and coupled it with the Churchill homework assignment that led to controversy in March of this year. 

The article was penned by Kristina Watrobski out of Washington D.C. Watrobski is also a national producer for Sinclair’s “Crisis in the Classroom.” The headline for that article reads “‘Drag performances’ planned by Oregon school district under fire for ‘sexual fantasy’ assignment.”

Giving attention to the controversy, the news reports inspired a local traveling evangelist group from Wellspring Bible Fellowship into action.

This particular group has been traveling throughout the Oregon I-5 corridor for the last few years spreading Christian hate speech, casting judgment on the LGBTQIA+ community, and providing the kindle needed for confrontations to escalate. 

In 2022, a letter to the editor was submitted to the News Register expressing that “Wellspring’s ‘preaching’ is the opposite of what Jesus would do.”

A 2023 letter explained that the City of Roseburg had caved to the hate spread by Wellsprings as a result of canceling the Gay Pride proclamation. The letter said;

“Roseburg Mayor Rich just handed one of the vilest, hateful businesses in Roseburg a despicable victory by denying the proclamation for Gay Pride. Yes, Wellspring Bible Fellowship is a business that masquerades as a religious organization. Where in the bible does it say that Christians should discriminate, be hateful and do harm to people? It does not, but that is exactly what Wellspring does. I was at the Pride event last year and witnessed the terrible, hateful behavior by Wellspring members.

To further illustrate the hate exhibited and practiced by Wellspring, look no further than who they hire. They hired a former police officer as a “minister” who refused to treat people with basic human decency and regard and was fired. They hired him to further spread their hate.”

The Wellspring’s group has been busy spreading hate throughout Oregon with their itinerant ministry. Similar to the Westboro Baptist Church protests, Wellsprings views themselves as the only hope for sinners’ salvation and are determined to scare folks into submission of their beliefs.

Wellspring’s pastors spend their time destroying reproductive health by protesting at Planned Parenthood, scaring souls at the Saturday Market, and preaching God’s hate at the University of Oregon and Oregon State.

Before the Pride event was scheduled to begin at 3:00 p.m. the Wellsprings protesters had arrived early, eager to shout their judgements of Christian hate upon the community. Around 2:45 p.m., the group of protesters, including McKenzie River Proud Boy Kyle Joseph Ritter and RV Saltshaker leader Jon Clement, gathered in a nearby parking lot where they were busy preparing to move down the street to the school.

Minutes before the group arrived, officers with the Eugene Police Department who were already in the parking lot began to quickly walk in their direction. After a short discussion with EPD, it was clear that the group was allowed to protest on the public sidewalk in front of the parking lot but were ultimately not asked to leave. 

Religious bigots speak with an EPD officer. At left, near the edge of the sidewalk, is Kyle Ritter, a McKenzie River Proud Boy, holding a sign that reads "CHRIST DOES NOT ACCEPT YOU AS YOU ARE THE BEST BE BORN AGAIN JOHN 3:7 - NEEDGOD.COM"
The anti-LGBTQIA+ bigots, including McKenzie River Proud Boy Kyle Ritter on the left, have a discussion with a Eugene police officer prior to moving down the street across from the entrance to the District 4J Pride Fest at North Eugene High School on June 2, 2023. [James Croxton // Double Sided Media]

The God-fearing group chose to protest at the entrance to the parking lot and there they stayed for most of the event, holding signs, casting judgements, and shouting at folks attending the event. 

Wellspring Pastor, and former cop, Mason Goodnight live streamed their actions on social media. Unfortunately though, the traveling “God show” didn’t know which school they were actually at that day. 

  • A Facebook post that includes photos of Wellsprings Fellowship folks harassing people leaving in their cars and on foot. It also includes photos of counter-protesters. The post reads "Wicked! Eugene's 4J school district spent tax payer dollars to host a PRIDE event for KIDS on South Eugene High School property. Such depravity and evil. May God grand great repentance! So blessed to be there woth Wellspring Bible Fellowship saints to proclaim Christ and His law and gospel truth! #Evangelism #PRIDE"
  • A screenshot of a Facebook post by Mason Goodknight that reads "Wellspring Bible Fellowship Outreach to South Eugene High School Sponsored PRIDE Event"

Susan, a neighbor from across the street heard the hate filled words coming from a small portable sound system the street preacher clutched under his arms and felt compelled to ask the group to leave. She said her kids could hear it, too, and were scared. 

Susan went across the street and asked them to move somewhere else. She told DSM that, without hesitation, the preacher began yelling at her through his loudspeaker calling her a sinner and accusing her and the attendees of worshiping false idols. 

“I am a Christian,” Susan said she responded, “but my God is a loving God” and his messages were “full of hate.” 

Susan turned to the police who told her that there was nothing they could do given the situation and that there was no noise ordinance to enforce. That’s when Susan decided to counter-protest by opening her window and placing a boombox facing out of it. The playlist she picked was one called “Pride.” 

“I only wish I could turn it up louder,” Susan said.

The protesters carried on regardless but not without others countering their message. 

At one point, the man preaching said “God hates homosexuals” before he bored onlookers with the story of the flood from the Bible and what the rainbow represents according to Christian believers. Some individuals held rainbow flags in front of the signs, while others tried to take up space in front of them, distracting from their protest. Others simply held welcoming signs of love and acceptance.

About an hour before the event was scheduled to end, the group of protesters began to leave, piling into an excursion van parked across the street. Just after the Gay Men’s Chorus took the stage, one lone protester arrived around 5:20 p.m. holding a sign exclaiming that “groomers” and “drag shows have no place in our schools.” He too, was shouting judgements on attendees but mostly a lot of anti-trans rhetoric.

As the event ended, a student got into an altercation with the protester that quickly escalated. The student, upset about the protester’s sign, tried to take it from the man. According to witnesses, the man shoved the student to the ground, ripping the poster. The student was then able to get away, resulting in the man turning to the nearby cops. 

Witnesses expressed that the cops were not paying attention when the altercation occurred and took off after the student. Ultimately, the police detained the student for questioning and told them that they were not going to be arrested, but because they technically committed a crime according to the officers, an incident report was filed.

EPDs Director of Public Information Melinda McLaughlin, said that the student could have been charged with third-degree criminal mischief for destroying the protestors sign. 

One lonesome protester stands on the sidewalk on the other side of one of the school's several driveways. It looks like he's mid-march with one leg up in the air in front of him. He's holding a white sign that is barely legible but it reads ""2SLGBTQIAA++ Groomers Drag Shows have no Place in OUR Schools."
One protester arrived late and was later involved in an altercation with a student regarding his hateful sign. [Mary Bell // Double Sided Media]

Regarding the altercation, the Pride Festival Planning Team, released this statement: 

After our wonderful and celebratory District 4J Pride Festival, on Friday, June 2nd, there was an unfortunate incident including a middle school student and one of the protestors. At the end of the event, as staff and volunteers were cleaning up, one last protester and a group of middle school students were engaging back and forth. The protester was using hateful speech, and one of the middle schoolers attempted to grab his sign from him, resulting in the sign ripping. In the struggle, that student ended up on the ground. At that point, the Eugene Police Officers on site, North Eugene High School Admin, and other staff stepped in. Staff and counselors checked in with the student involved immediately, as they were obviously distraught. 

We are saddened that this incident happened after our event. We are also upset that protesters at the event harassed and deceived students and families, handing out disturbing and hateful pamphlets while shouting at them. Some of these pamphlets were made to look like they were supportive and pro-LGBTQIA+, but inside contained hateful words and disturbing images, including a horrific picture of an aborted fetus. This caused many distressing emotions in our students, specifically our younger ones who had not encountered such obvious hate before, and ultimately resulted in the incident between the protester and the student. The main message being communicated from the protesters was that organizers of this Pride Festival were harming children. We heard from countless families and students how uneasy and unsafe they felt given the presence of the protesters, making it very clear that those protesters were actually the ones harming children. 

We are continuing to check in with the students involved, and to ensure that they are okay. We do not want this to overshadow how amazing and beautiful the Pride Festival was. There were over 1000 students and community members who attended the event, celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community and having fun. We are incredibly thankful to all the staff and volunteers who made this event happen, and we want to focus on joy. We had our first ever district wide Pride Festival, and it was BEAUTIFUL! “

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2 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    KEZI is not Sinclair owned. But the other 2 stations are owned (KVAL) or “affiliated” (KMTR)

  1. June 13, 2023

    […] protests surrounding the pride event at North Eugene High School spilled into Wednesday’s meeting. In response to those protests and to prior statements of hate […]

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