A fun, fabulous cause: Third annual Bainbridge Pride Festival returns to Waterfront Park

They grow up so fast, don’t they?

Already, at only three years old, the annual Bainbridge Pride Festival has matured from a casual picnic to a truly enormous item on the island’s cultural calendar. This year’s festival — boasting a bevy of guests, performers and activities — will be held from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, June 23 at Waterfront Park, once more celebrating the island’s LGBTQ community and its allies.

There is no cost to attend, and admission is open to all.

Nationally, June is LGBT Pride Month, so chosen to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred in June 1969. The island-based celebration, organized by Bainbridge Pride, is a satellite of other similar events set to take place in Seattle and elsewhere in Kitsap County, and will feature food, local vendors, a beer-and-wine garden, invited speakers, live musical entertainment and children’s activities.

Brien Drive SE will be closed to traffic from the Bjune Drive SE intersection from noon to 9 p.m. and will remain unavailable for parking.

Search “Bainbridge Pride” on Facebook to learn more, or visit www.bainbridge pride.org.

In preparation for the big day, Bainbridge Pride co-founder and president Derek Villanueva recently chatted with the Review about the origins and growth of the festival, the importance of pride even in a largely progressive city like Bainbridge, and also what’s on tap for this year’s shindig.

* This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

BIR: This is technically only the third Bainbridge Pride Festival, but it sounds like it’s already shaping up to be the biggest.

DV: It is the biggest. People don’t remember the first one, but we started out with a picnic and the picnic was just very, very small. We went to [Town & Country Market], grabbed whatever they actually had prepared and we’d go out in the park and just kind of remember and celebrate.

Last year we had a really great turnout. We just didn’t know who was going to show up. We got the stage together, we got some bands together and we were like, ‘This could bomb, you guys! Nobody could show up.’ Some people showed up and I think in the end, from all the ferry walkthrough and all that, we probably gathered around 700 to 1,000 attendees.

This year it’s picked up a lot of traction. We’ve got a lot of community support, a lot of sponsorships came our way and people were like, ‘Hey, we are noticing what you guys are doing here on the island and keep it up. This is good.’ We’re getting a lot more vendor traction, too. So a lot more people want to come out and be part of the celebration.

BIR: The festival has kind of grown with Bainbridge Pride, is that right?

DV: [Bainbridge Pride] really started with the [Defense of Marriage Act], the striking down of [that] in 2015 and we kind of started gathering from there on.

We’ve been around for about three years, starting out with like mixers and small get-togethers. And then people kind of [started] asking for bigger things and getting more ambitious and we were like, ‘How can we make it more known and actually emulate or mirror what Seattle has or what Kitsap Pride has, so that people don’t have to go that far to actually celebrate?’

BIR: As the island is generally thought of as more progressive and pretty inclusive, does that make holding an event like this festival in a prominent downtown space all the more important, so as to show that we’re actually living our stated values?

DV: We can say inclusion, but if you’re not taking action and you’re not representing it then it’s just a word that you’re going to throw around.

The island is a progressive place, but it’s very homogeneous in a sense [so] we have to kind of embrace this culture and the LGBT movement. I think that it helps. Someone had asked me, ‘Would you say that Bainbridge is inclusive?’ I personally can’t answer that, but I can help to move the needle, wherever that’s at, because my perspective is different from what you see and what a lot of islanders see. But hopefully, yeah, hopefully we are continuing that conversation on inclusivity and making a safe space where people can come and be themselves.

People are like, ‘We’re progressive,’ and ‘I can’t believe we’ve not had this,’ or that we never had an organization here on the island that was just specifically LGBTQ. Actually, when I moved here, I noticed that there wasn’t an existing organization besides Kitsap Pride that was here on the island, so I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. I started just getting a few of us together and I think people just do love that here; we are our own festival. I tell people this is a cute town festival … if you’ve been to Seattle Pride, that’s a monster and it’s awesome and it’s great, but here we have to think of our demographic. We have a lot of allies, we have a lot of gay parents and lesbian parents who have kids. It’s more kid-oriented and we have to think of those programs here that we’d like to offer.

BIR: You say you’ve seen increased support from the community and sponsors, but have you had any pushback? Does anybody seem to be set against having the festival?

DV: So far, no pushback [but] anything can happen. I think as you get bigger you’re going to start drawing more attention to yourself, so we will see. But [I’m] crossing my fingers that we have more lovers than haters.

I say, if you’re going to drop by, drop on by. We’re a peaceful organization and it’s just going to be a gathering that’s going to have a lot of love.

We welcome everyone.

The waterfront is the perfect venue for this because we want people from all walks of life to walk on down from the ferry, the day-trippers, too [who] didn’t even know this was going on here.

BIR: So generally all the feedback you’re seeing is supportive?

DV: We literally have a lot of churches — we have Grace [Episcopal Church], St. Barnabas [Episcopal Church], Seabold [United Methodist Church] — they all have reached out to us and they’re like, ‘Hey, we’d like to be part of the vendors there with information and just let people know that the churches here on Bainbridge Island, most of them are very inclusive and we have LGBTQ members and we want equality for you guys.’

At the [city] proclamation, which happened on May 28, we saw eighth-graders there, which is just like the cutest thing. When I was in eighth grade I never dreamed or fathomed the idea of going to city council, and then these kids here had little stickers on their face … and they were about to say something in the public comment but they just didn’t, they got too nervous. But the thought of just them there, and then when we walked out they were like, ‘Hey, thank you guys.’ They approached our group and were like, ‘Thank you so much for this, this is awesome.’ And I just looked at the other [Bainbridge Pride] board members and I’m like, ‘This is why we do it!’ We do it because you don’t know who’s watching, who’s questioning, who’s still not comfortable and still has a lot of questions about their identity and their sexuality and all that.

BIR: I understand there’s quite a guest list this year.

DV: We’ve got Derek Kilmer who’s actually going to arrive and say some words of encouragement … We’ve got state Senator Christine Rolfes also dropping by. And we’ve also got some of our own city council members who will be joining us.

BIR: You are also set to have some entertainment, is that right?

DV: We’ve got some bands and most of them actually volunteered, and so that was just amazing, for them to reach out and say, ‘You know what? You guys are doing an amazing job.’

We’ve got Kitsap WEPA, they’re like Latin jazz. We are opening up the festival with Good Karma Blues, they’re going to be playing a set or two. And then we’ve got Jefferson Rowboat. Those are the big bands. We also have a DJ on board that will be [playing] throughout the day.

BIR: This cause gets a lot of attention particularly at this time of year. Lots of people like to go to the festivals, but are there chances to volunteer or assist, to stay involved with Bainbridge Pride at other times of year?

DV: We’ve got some programs coming up. This is where all of our resources get focused into, but we just came off a successful event on June 1 called ‘Stonewall 2 Bainbridge.’

We are planning to come back also in October. For the Coming Out Day and the Coming Out Month, we do plan to do another educational program there. And then we also have the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which usually falls on Nov. 16 or 17 … it’s going to be back at [the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.