Pride organizer overcomes initial small-town resistance
Welsey Hanson is a born-and-raised Oregon City resident who organized the city’s first Pride event downtown earlier this summer.
Hanson received support from city commission members in making Pride history for his hometown. Among those supporting Hanson was Denyse McGriff, Oregon City’s first BIPOC mayor, who was an organizer in earlier celebrations of Juneteenth in the city.
But a successful downtown Pride event in Oregon City came together despite other forces that Hanson didn’t expect to confront.
Hanson and other Pride organizers reported threats to the police and hired a private security team. In protest of the event, two competing far-right groups showed up and ended up brawling with each other, leading to two arrests of protestors but no interruption of the downtown Pride celebration.
Hanson proceeded to organize the event as a volunteer private citizen. However, as his day job, he’s the sole employee of the Downtown Oregon City Association, a nonprofit organization run by a volunteer board. While some downtown business owners expressed concerns about the event, the board wouldn’t let Pride organizers put the downtown association’s logo on event posters.
Hanson put all his difficulties into perspective and didn’t take anything personally. He said that Pride celebrations in small towns are sweeping the nation and are often encountering initial resistance.
Hanson wrote a statement of explanation about the Pride event to the local newspaper to help educate citizens about the need for such events. As a non-binary person, he says that he answers to he/him pronouns and other pronouns like she/they.
Appearing in drag at Oregon City’s Pride event as Mizz Ecstacy Inferno, Hanson said he learned to use his platform for good in creating a traveling queer cabaret show. Hanson’s group traveled across the United States into different communities, eventually landing him on national TV on “America’s Got Talent.”
“But in the end, I’ve always come back to Oregon City because this is my hometown, just like it’s everyone else’s hometown, just like it’s Oregon’s hometown,” he said.
Hanson explains to anyone who will listen about the trials that he went through before graduating from Oregon City High School’s Jackson Campus in 1997. He wants no one to ever go through what he had to deal with as a young queer-in-the-closet community member.
“I was beaten, I was thrown in lockers, I had my head shoved in toilets all because of who I was,” Hanson said. “In the end, we always prevail because love will always win.”
A portion of the Pride event proceeds and donations went to The Living Room, a nonprofit supporting queer and trans youth in Clackamas County. Additional money raised from the event went to the Oregon City Children’s Theatre, where about one-third of the kids who participate identify as LGBTQ+.
“It’s so important to have events like this and to highlight organizations that do things like what we do with LGBTQ+ young folks in particular,” said Bee Degraw with The Living Room. “There’s a lot of things happening in Oregon, and across the country, and across the world that cause a lot of anxiety, and I think it’s really important now more than ever to celebrate queer joy as much as we can.”
Hundreds of partygoers brought a large financial windfall for the downtown businesses that decided to participate in Oregon City’s first Pride event. Hanson hopes downtown and city officials will see the economic potential for closing down streets and involving even more people in the Pride event next year.
Hanson isn’t stopping with downtown events and hopes to host a Pride event at Clackamas Community College to close out this year’s summer.