OSU alumna-activist, Albany Pride founder speak on PRIDE

Elijah Stucki is the executive director for Mid Willamette Trans Support Network and has been volunteering for the network since 2017. Mid Willamette Trans Support Network has a community at The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis, Ore.

Zeva Rosenbaum, News Contributor

While Corvallis, Ore. is not throwing an official Pride celebration, Albany Pride will hold their Pride event at 10 a.m. on June 25 at Albany City Hall Plaza, where participants can find LGBTQIA+ owned businesses and resources.

The City of Albany made a 2022 Pride proclamation as they’ve done in some capacity since 2017, which was unanimously voted on by council members, and Linn County also issued an official Pride Month proclamation. Corvallis government hasn’t made or rejected a Pride Month proclamation this year. 

Lebanon’s Downtown Association will host Family Pride Day on June 18 at 1 p.m., starting in the Lebanon Academy Square. Philomath’s Pride was held on June 4.

Keith Kolkow founded Albany Pride in 2017 despite initially being worried about “resistance” on the part of Albany city councilors who supported anti-equity votes and language. But, Kolkow said, he believed his talents and knowledge were needed to help the community after Donald Trump’s presidential election.

“I knew people were scared and feeling isolated, so I decided to put on a Pride event,” Kolkow said.

Albany Pride has held a Pride event every year since 2017, according to Kolkow, except for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the organization has received “staggering amounts of grassroots support” from allies and members of the community, without whom he said he couldn’t have made it all happen.

“It is truly a grassroots event with everything that happens, from sound equipment to local drag performances all being donated,” Kolkow explained. “Since 2018 we have also featured resource tabling for organizations that directly serve the LGBTQIA+ community as well as LGBTQIA+-owned businesses.”

2022 is Albany Pride’s fifth year of operation, and Kolkow said it “marks a major shift for Pride.” He said he’s formed a partnership with United Way of Linn, Benton and Lincoln Counties, who now act as Albany Pride’s fiscal agent.

Kolkow said he believes money brings “immense responsibility” to incorporate equity and deliver [results] for the community from the very first dollar, and most of their funding goes toward covering Albany Pride’s overhead costs and compensation for performers.

“These artists deserve compensation,” Kolkow said. “Additionally, we will provide honorariums for our activist speakers and tribal representatives performing land acknowledgements. I will not be compensated as I believe this is an honor to bring to our community.” 

According to Kolkow, remaining donated funds are to be donated to organizations directly serving Linn County’s LGBTQIA+ youth. He said Albany Pride is often referred to as a Pride Parade, but Albany Pride is not a parade, despite including an annual march. He believes everyone who is able should actively participate and take part in marching.

“We must always march and remember why we march,” Kolkow said.

Michaela Martin, an Albany-Lebanon local and Oregon State University alumna, said she’s always been interested in LGBTQIA+ rights and advocacy, partially thanks to her own bisexuality. 

Martin explained that policy has been important to her since she was young; it impacted her directly since she’s been out as bi since before she left high school.

“My mom would always be like, ‘You can’t complain about things if you’re not trying to change them,” Martin said. “I think I took that really literally, which meant I got to complain about anything I was trying to change.”

Martin said she was in bed researching rules for adding code to the ballot when she came across Chapter 270 and immediately reached out to the Linn County Commissioners the following day. 

Adopted in June of 1993, Linn County Code Chapter 270 “No Rights to Homosexuals” denied minority or protected status to individuals identifying as LGBTQ+ and prohibits the spending of county funds in ways that express approval of homosexuality.

“It really wrecked me,” Martin said. “Lying there in my bed at two in the morning and I was like, ‘What is this?’”

At first glance, Martin said there was no indication that the code was, in fact, unenforceable and she later found that it was not enforceable, but was “being retained” in case the commission decided to either enforce or remove it. 

According to Martin, the code was quietly removed from the website during this process and is now only available via a public records request and, when she called to ask why, they didn’t provide an explanation. 

“How would anyone even know to do that?” Michaela asked. 

Martin said once Oregon introduced LGBTQIA+ rights, multiple smaller counties and towns enacted a “wave” of anti-LGBTQIA+ opposition via local bills, but they were ultimately shut down in Oregon Supreme Court.

“But the fact that our commission was retaining it,” Martin said. “How do you process it?”

Martin said that, regardless of being unenforceable, she saw Chapter 270 as “a beacon of homophobia,” and the symbolism can’t be forgotten.

Basic Rights Oregon has a timeline of Oregon’s pro- and anti-LGBTQIA+ policies spanning 1853 through 2021, including repeated attempts to push Measure 9 on the part of the Christian organization Oregon Citizens’ Alliance.

According to Martin, she started contacting any advocate she knew, but it was difficult for organizations to put resources toward removing such a small, unenforceable code. She said some of her advocate friends were concerned and told her she should be cautious about bringing attention to the issue at the risk of “galvanizing opposition.” Martin said she even took out a Post Office box so her physical address wouldn’t be found on any paperwork, especially since her son, Ezra, was only two or three years old at the time and she was concerned about their safety.

Martin was involved with Linn County Democrats in 2017 as well and ended up connecting with Kolkow. 

Martin said she started going to protests when she was quite young and described the “occupy” movement she started at 21 while visiting cousins in Michigan. She said she and a coworker sat alone outside for the first two days before others started joining them, and after the movement picked up and it started getting cold outside, she realized she wanted to “be at the table” and take part in the conversations surrounding advocacy and policy, although it took some time to get used to really taking the initiative.

Since her days of advocacy in Albany and receiving her bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in psychology from OSU, Martin has graduated with a law degree from Southern California University of Laverne. She said she plans to continue working in policy in the future as well as taking on consulting work.

Martin said she’s excited to be speaking at Albany Pride this year.

“I have a pretty great message about how often we’re waiting for someone else to do ‘the thing,’” Martin said. “Because we think we don’t know how, or we’re not the right person, or there’s someone who does know more or has more power and [we think] they should be the one to do it,’ and we just kind of… let things exist.”

Martin said her speech will also cover Bill 565 and will encourage people to “be empowered to ‘do the thing’ and research and take part in local government. 

Kolkow said he and Martin began talking when he heard about her work, and he invited her to speak at their first Pride. He said he only expected about 100 attendees at the first Pride, but they ended up with over 1,000.

Kolkow said part of him always knew he was different, but growing up in “actual rural” Malin, Ore. led to him only coming out after serving in the Air Force. He said during the enlistment process, he only actively read one document out of the “mountains of paperwork” he had to sign: the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Policy. 

“That’s kind of when I really knew, or at least acknowledged to myself, that I was gay man, though it took me years to say it out loud,” Kolkow explained.

Kolkow said the 1990s and early 2000s were a “very different time,” partially due to the “‘Christian’ undercurrent’” that intensified post 9/11.

“I do have my own religious beliefs but I certainly don’t believe they should govern the rights and human dignity of others,” Kolkow added.

According to Kolkow, before becoming politically outspoken and being openly out as gay, it was much easier to live and work in Albany, in particular once he ran for local office. 

“We are failing the youth and many of our neighbors in our community, that’s a fact that cannot be ignored,” Kolkow said. “There is still a lot of work to do here—to acknowledge and remove the vestiges of our exclusionary present and past, it is a moral imperative for me and I’m honored to be a part of that among many others who bring infinitely more experience and insight into the numerous inequities in our communities and local institutions.” 

There are multiple Pride month events for Willamette Valley residents throughout June, including the Albany Pride celebration as well as Philomath, Ore. and Lebanon, Ore.’s first Pride events.

According to Kolkow, people can get involved by messaging the Albany Pride Facebook and Instagram @albanyorpride.

Kolkow also encourages people to attend the Linn-Benton NAACP Juneteenth event at LBCC on June 18. 

“LGBTQIA+ allies and the (caucasian-passing) LGBTQIA+ community need to start showing up more for our [Black, Indigenous people of color] community members— we absolutely owe them our allyship through action,” Kolkow said.