I have waited to fully talk about our 2019 Pride event until I have had a chance to recover and digest the whole thing. I loved most things about the process, people, and the event itself. But some things happened this year that I did not love.

This year we were commemorating Stonewall, strangely enough while overcoming our own “stonewalling”. Our main sponsor left to move up the corporate chain, God bless them, and nobody volunteered to help take their place. We kept planning as if it was still happening, but deep down inside I knew that nobody was going to step up. The facility would have liked nothing more than to watch it float away. They’ve never been supportive anyway. In fact, none of the upper administration attends our Pride event. However, they have much to say about it afterwards.

As LGBT people we had to endure rules and restrictions that no other event did. Like programs, our paper programs were required to label the inmate speakers as such, no other event had to do that, ever. Keep in mind we had college graduations, an African American, Spanish Heritage, Defy graduations, and dog program graduations and all that had paper programs did not have to label their speakers as inside/outside speakers…it was just our program. The person who demanded we do that handles that for one of programs listed above and does not do that themselves, in case we need cold hard proof of blatant discrimination.

I got chewed out over inside speakers speeches and how they had to be approved (normal procedure, across the board…) and I reminded the person that all of my hard work was not going to be thrown away because some inmate speaker wants to go on a tangent that will embarrass us all and give them a reason to shut down Pride altogether and ruin what took 50 years to create. Their reply was “we care about this too, it means alot to all of us here”. Yet, none of them stepped up to help. None of them attended, none of them attempted to intervene when we were abandoned as a demographic. The only thing they did was put up roadblock after roadblock and most of our planning took place on the damned breezeway while we were walking to other programs and even that was just me telling others what their roles were. I did all of the planning, everything from inmate speech themes to room setup. Yet, they “care”.

I am hard pressed. On one hand Washington State is the only state to allow an exclusive Pride event in their prisons. You want to talk about progressive, these folks should get credit where credit is due, they took a leap. But on the other hand this same “leap” is used as an opportunity to other us as is proven by the opposition we receive every year. Making it difficult enough to navigate that no staff wants to “sponsor” an LGBT anything.

When one gainfully employed person spoke to me about one of our outside speakers going on a “tangent” this year, that nearly got us shut down on the spot, I was told “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”. As in, don’t complain about your discrimination when you experience it less than everyone else. Because some discrimination and hate is okay…by the way, 2019 marks another prison related anniversary, the birth of the American prison. Legislated in 1819, Pennsylvania, built a few years later.

2019, celebrating 200 years of civil slavery, keeping Americans gainfully employed through the subjugation of human beings. Congrats…

I know this, I have typed about 4000 characters here and this story is far from told. I could write a book called “Road to Pride: The Prison Pride Story” and it would be far more than a 4000 character article. Maybe you could help?

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With Love
Jeff aka Ruth Utnage

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