How to Celebrate Pride 2021 in Portland

Last year, Pride went fully virtual and scaled way back. This year, it’s dipping its toes back in the water.

By Conner Reed May 26, 2021 Published in the Summer 2021 issue of Portland Monthly

Portland Pride 2018

Pride is back. Sort of. Since 1994, PrideNW—currently a two-person operation consisting of executive director Debra Porta and program assistant Kari Anne Horton—has helmed the epicenter of Portland’s Pride celebration: the waterfront festival and parade. (The parade itself predates the organization by nearly two decades, first kicking off in an unaffiliated fashion in 1975.) Last year, though, PrideNW was among the first organizations nationwide to call off its festivities, making the announcement the same day Gov. Kate Brown issued initial stay-at-home orders.

This year, the group is easing back into things: the parade will return, albeit in a virtual format, and several other satellite events will orbit it. “Even if [this year] doesn’t look quite the same, it’s still important to be visible and present in the community,” Porta says. “The LGBTQ+ community is very easily isolated in a lot of ways. We depend on each other: for a support system, for joy, for safety. When we had to cancel last year, that was our first and greatest concern.”

Porta, Horton, and their community partners did most of the planning for Pride 2021 last fall and winter, and had to do so under COVID guidelines that were in place at the time. (They couldn’t apply for permits based on optimistic, nonexistent future crowd-control policies, for example.) Porta says the new constraints have injected a bit of necessary freshness to her approach—unbound by expectations of consistency, PrideNW has expanded its reach to connect with new cultural orgs across the city. Here’s a quick rundown of Portland Pride 2021, featuring confirmed events as of press time. Head to for updates as they roll in.

Pride Pics

In collaboration with the directors of QDoc, PrideNW is programming a two-day drive-in film fest at Zidell Yards that will screen a mix of queer tentpole titles and smaller works, all with a loca connection. The guiding principle, Porta says, is a glance back and a glance forward: “not aiming for rose-colored glasses,” but contextualizing queerness for Portlanders in 2021. The outdoor, semi-isolated setting is perfect for a Pride with an uncertain guest list: PrideNW will scale crowd caps at the last possible minute according to that week’s COVID guidelines. June 16–17

Portland Pride TV Special

Local CBS affiliate KOIN approached Porta about striking up a partnership for this year’s festival. Details weren’t firm at press time, but Porta says they expect to produce a 30-minute special that might include parade highlights, spotlights on significant LGBTQ+ Portlanders, performances, and more. It may not sound like much, but it’s the most extended coverage a local station has ever afforded the parade/festival. Date TBD

Virtual Pride Parade

Last year, while images of that superspreader parade in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu burned bright in many minds, PrideNW opted to re-stream footage from Pride parades past rather than tackle a new, socially distant procession. For 2021, though, Porta and her team headed to the Portland International Raceway to stage and record a crowd-free, self-contained parade. With floats, performances, and more, the org expects this year’s virtual festivities to run a full two hours. June 20

We Hold Your Names Sacred Resonance Ensemble Stream

The reliably groundbreaking vocal ensemble will close its 2020–21 season with this piece by decorated composer Mari Ésabel Velverde and writer Dane Figueroa Edidi. It’s the final entry in Resonance’s “Commissions for Now” series, which funded three new works by nationally recognized composers that were captured and streamed by Resonance. The premiere of We Hold Your Names Sacred, a piece centered on trans women of color, will stream as an official piece of Pride programming. June 19

Never Look Away Mural Unveiling

Depending on this June’s rain quotient (and, hey, given last summer, let’s hope it’s high), the month’s festivities could end with the unveiling of Portland’s first piece of LGBTQ-specific public art. Conceived in 2019 as a “queer heroes” mural, Porta and company decided to retool the framing of the piece, titled Never Look Away, to focus more on everyday queers. “As people, we have a tendency to try to find heroes, put them on pedestals, and make them not human, really. And that tends to separate what we think we’re capable of, because we’re not ‘heroes,’” she says. “If [young people] look up at a mural on the side of a building, and they see people who are part of our community, we want them to know ... they’re not any less special than the people on the wall.” Subjects will include Stonewall icon Marsha P. Johnson, Portland musician and activist Kathleen Saadat, local cartoonist Rupert Kinnard, and more. Late June, weather permitting

LISTEN: Portland Monthly arts editor Conner Reed talks about how the coronavirus shaped this year’s festivities, the Pride package in our Summer 2021 issue of the magazine, and what a return to the Pride Festival means for Portland. 

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