It’s been a week of clouds and scattered rain showers, but Juneau has been filled with rainbows anyway.
Pride, which takes place in June worldwide, celebrates the rich sexual and gender diversity of the human race, and Juneau’s LGBTQ community has been out in full force. The SouthEast Alaska Gay and Lesbian Alliance (SEAGLA) worked with local sponsors to host a wide variety of events, from picnics to prom to the biggest drag show of the year, to provide everyone with the chance to celebrate, express their individuality and to reach out to other members of the community. It’s 10 days filled with an explosion of color, ubiquitous glitter, and people coming out to show Juneau that they are visible and proud of who they are.
The 32nd annual Pride Picnic on Sunday welcomed all to share food and good company under a steel grey sky that couldn’t dampen the vibrancy of the different flags lining the inside of the shelter at Savikko Park. People of every age, gender, and sexuality filled the shelter with laughter and conversation. Music played over the speakers and fires staved off the chill. A game of volleyball, children shrieking with laughter on the playground and dogs begging for pets accompanied the smell of barbeque. It was a gathering of people who just wanted to live and be treated like people.
A shoulder to lean on
Jeff Rogers and his husband James Hoagland, SEAGLA board members gave out the third annual Mildred Boesser Equal Rights Award at the picnic. This awards recognizes members of the community who are working for equal rights and opportunities for LGBTQ people. Previous recipients of the award were former city manager Kim Kiefer for her work fighting for equal treatment for city employees, and Juneau assembly member Jesse Kiehl for his work on the equal rights ordinance. This year the award was given to Jennifer Fletcher.
Fletcher is a transgender woman who has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the State of Alaska for denying her insurance coverage for transition-related services that were deemed medically necessary. Due to this denial of coverage, Fletcher has had to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket. The lawsuit wants a judge to find that denial of coverage for transition-related care is discrimination against transgender people, and that Fletcher’s rights have been violated by the State of Alaska.
In an emotional speech to the attendees of the picnic, Jeff Rogers said, “This is a day when we celebrate someone who stepped forward with courage … We celebrate Pride in part as a celebration of the 1969 Stonewall Riots and it is incredibly meaningful that we here give the award to a transgender woman who has said she is not going to take it anymore, and that she has rights and dignity and she is going to fight for them.”
Rogers referenced Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, the two transgender women of color who started the Stonewall Riots which provided the catalyst for the annual tradition of Pride.
Fletcher, a soft-spoken and eloquent woman, gave a short but powerful acceptance speech. She began by saying, “I’d like to say a few words about shoulders. In part because to be honest I could not be doing this, I could not be here taking on this fight without borrowing the shoulders from so many other people. Shoulders to cry upon, shoulders to derive strength from or feel protected by. Shoulders to stand upon.”
She acknowledged the predecessors who made her work for equal rights possible and extended the acceptance of the award to the community, recognizing “the individuals out in the community who are carving out their own spaces who are actively making this place safe for all of us… The people who are changing Juneau for the better.”
In an interview afterward, Fletcher said that the process of filing the lawsuit started with her noticing that transition-related services were excluded under the State provided health care plan. She connected to other people in a similar situation, asked hard questions and came up empty-handed. When it became clear to her that she had run out of options, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commision and filed a lawsuit against the State of Alaska.
She described the whole ordeal as “seriously, seriously annoying, aggravating and… it just consumes so much energy to do all this. I can understand why there are relatively few people who do, and I get the impression that organizations such as the State rely upon this, rely upon the fact that it is so stressful to cut down on that. To me that is just seriously not ok.”
Despite the time and energy Fletcher has had to dedicate to having her rights upheld and her voice heard, she feels that she is doing the right thing for the community.
“The outpouring of support from the community, from everyone, has been honestly overwhelming in a very good way,” she said. “And I am humbled right now by that, and so very appreciative.”
One particular facet of the community Fletcher felt deserved a shout-out is Game On, a gaming store in Juneau owned by Emry and Casey Harris. They both identify as some version of bisexual or pansexual, which they describe as being attracted to people like them and different from them. The whole family, including their child Linden, is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.
Emry and Casey are committed to subverting the sexism, androcentrism, and overwhelming whiteness of the videogame industry. Their store, a small but growing operation that sells used games and consoles, features a Diversity Wall filled with games that tout protagonists and secondary characters who are LGBT, polyamorous, gender non-conforming, or just simply strong female characters.
“Our shop is aggressively pro-everyone,” Casey said.
They used the game “Horizon Zero Dawn” as an example of why they feel the Diversity Wall is so important. It is the second best-selling PlayStation 4 game, and yet received a fraction of the advertising funding as similarly selling games and was almost immediately turned sideways on store shelves. The reason? There is a woman on the cover.
Emry explained, “That’s the meaning behind our aggressive promotion of marginalized peoples, is that we know these games aren’t given their due. What we do is try to combat that by highlighting them and saying ‘hey, this is what this game got right’ and trying to undermine some of the ingrained sexism of the industry. That’s the foundation of our business.”
To Casey and Emry, who they are is inseparable from what they do. They doubt that, were they not a part of the LGBT community, they would have recognized the need for greater diversity in gaming. Emry, who is transgender, gay and autistic but also white, sees it as their duty to use their white privilege as a platform to make positive change.
“Just because it’s the right thing to do,” they said. “It’s not anything that’s worth congratulating. It’s just what you’ve got to do.”
Game On’s next step is to reach out to other LGBT-owned businesses and collaborate with them to raise awareness of their existence within the greater Juneau community and to help promote each other. Emry and Casey also want to size up, moving their business into a larger location in the near future so that they can host gaming nights for marginalized communities.
About the move, Casey said, “We want to have the space to be able to invite the trans community to come play games and get to know each other. We want to invite high school girls to come play games without being ridiculed, without being the object of another person’s interest… Girls are there because they’re gamers. And they’re welcome to be gamers.”
Game On, with their rainbow flag flying above the storefront and their sign asking all who are not supportive of diversity in gaming to shop elsewhere, is visibly LGBT-friendly. The store has been vandalized once, but the couple say that they’ve received a lot more love than hate. As one of the only gaming stores nationwide to place an emphasis on diversity, they feel they are role-models for the gaming community.
“We’re making an impact on the LGBT community of the United States with what we’re doing here in Juneau, Alaska,” Casey said.
Serving marginalized communities
Planned Parenthood has been a visible supporter at the Pride events going on throughout the week, with a booth set up in the Savikko Park shelter filled with resources during the Pride Picnic. One of the resources that the Planned Parenthood representatives were most vocal about was a new addition to their services: transgender care.
Andria Budbill, Community Outreach Educator of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, said that they would be rolling out transgender services starting in July. The services include feminizing and masculinizing hormones as well as any reproductive health service they offer, for anyone 18 and older. People wishing to access these services will be able to make appointments through their call center starting June 20.
Bubill and her Planned Parenthood coworkers went through a “road test” to make sure that they were equipped to provide these services with the respect and dignity that transgender people so often must do without when seeking medical care. “The people who trained us (on transgender care), they went through as if they were a trans person trying to get services and did a little practice. They had only positive things to say about our staff.”
She went on to say, “We’re here at Pride to show support for the community, which we always want to do, and this year we want to make sure that people are aware that we have this new service that Juneau has a need for. We’re super excited to be able to offer it.”
For more information on upcoming Pride events and to connect with the LGBT community of Juneau, visit SEAGLA’s website at https://www.seagla.org/.
• Jack Scholz is a freelance writer living in Juneau.