Gay rights rally in Richland shows Tri-Cities as welcoming

Organizers of a gay rights rally in Richland on Saturday named their event "GRR," but their message was far from angry.

Tolerance, equality and shared humanity were the themes of the event, which brought together more than 100 members of the Tri-City lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and straight supporters, known as "allies."

In fact, it was a straight ally who came up with the idea for the rally, which had a second nickname: "Jousting for Justice."

Jeffrey Graham, 19, said he had seen pictures of similar events in other cities and thought they looked like fun. So he spread the word on Facebook that he wanted to bring a gay rights rally to the Tri-Cities to show the local gay community that it has a welcoming home in this area.

"Just because I'm straight doesn't mean I can't address an injustice going on," he said of the discrimination gay people can experience.

Alonso Ponce, one of the Kennewick High School students who started a Gay Straight Alliance at the school, said Eastern Washington has a reputation for being conservative and intolerant of gay people, but that is a reputation that can and should be changed.

And the rally was a step toward that, he said.

"The fact there's a gay rally in the Tri-Cities says a lot," Ponce told the Herald. "People feel more accepted in a place where we have a gay rights rally."

Alex Emig, who is transgender, said as someone who grew up a social outcast because of the way he expressed his gender when he was female, the sense of community created by an event like Saturday's rally is crucial.

"It's important that we as a community get together to let people know who aren't out of the closet yet that there is support for them," Emig said. "We do have a community here in the Tri-Cities."

Emig said he especially was pleased to see a lot of young people in the crowd.

"It gives me hope for the next generation -- that the next generation doesn't have to deal with some of the stuff I had to deal with," he said.

Keri Lobdell, co-chair of the local chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays, or PFLAG, agreed that the rally was an important way to show gays and lesbians living in the Tri-Cities -- especially teens -- that they are not alone.

"I would like for the youth in the community to take away that there are people who support and love them," Lobdell said. "It's good for our community to see how many people are here also."