Salem’s Saturday Pride block party features storytelling mermaid, Lego community art, free massages

A performer with Lylac and Friends interacts with the crowd during their performance at the Downtown Pride block party on June 17, 2023 in Salem (Laura Tesler/ Special to Salem Reporter)

This Saturday, Salem’s downtown will see its first LGBTQ+ Pride parade in recent memory, followed by a party featuring free activities, from button-making to outdoor games and drag performances.

Hosting a Salem parade has been a long term goal for Capital Pride, said the organization’s President Zachery Cardoso, and a form of celebration the community has been calling for.

Salem’s first-ever Pride event, held in 1978, was a march held in front of the Capitol building, with nine participants, a low number due to fear of backlash according to research by Willamette Heritage Center.

The city’s first pride parade was held nearly 20 years later in 1996, and was cheered on by 200 people. Its keynote speaker was Chaz Bono, son of Cher and Sonny Bono, according to a Statesman Journal article at the time. 

It will be the first parade hosted by Salem Capital Pride in the two decades since its founding, though it has hosted Pride marches, including a memorial march ahead of last year’s downtown party.

“That parade is classically what people expect from Pride, especially people who are new to the area or have never been to a Salem Pride before,” Cardoso said. 

On June 8, the parade will march several blocks down State Street downtown starting at 11 a.m. near the Capitol and end at the block party on the block between Northeast Liberty and Commercial streets. The parade will be mostly marchers from community groups, including those on wheels from Cherry City Roller Derby.

The block party starts downtown at noon, and will go until 5 p.m. This year, organizers wanted to emphasize accessibility by making everything free and interactive.

“Nothing at Pride is going to be just like, get a flier or handout or buy something, with the exception of food,” Cardoso said. “Everything is a free activity. It’s something to do, and not just something to peruse.”

The activities include face painting, 10-minute chair massages and making slime and zines. There will also be a children’s storytime with a mermaid, and a chance to take photos with Mandalorians.

There will also be board games, outdoor games like cornhole and a free take-what-you-need clothes closet.

Cardoso is especially looking forward to the Lego mosaic, where anyone can design a square to add to a large community piece.

Salem business Becka Makes Buttons will also host a station where people can make their own Pride buttons using historic designs that Cardoso found in an online archive.

“There’s one that has like a weird face of the moon and just says ‘gay’ under it. I don’t know what this is about but I love it,” he said. “And then there are some that are really interesting history lessons, too.”

For example, there’s one that says “I am a security risk,” referring to the Lavender Scare era during the 1950s, 60s and 70s when LGBTQ+ Americans were targeted, investigated and banned from government work because of their sexuality.

“I’m really excited, I like to share those history moments and they’re just fun designs,” Cardoso said. “It’s easy access to history, to community.”

There will be drag performances throughout the day, including Salem’s own RiRi Calienté. Salem indie singer Hannah Wood will also perform. See a full list of performers here

Capital Pride’s biggest event, Pride in the Park, will be on Sept. 21. Cardoso said their long term goal is to have an event or gathering every month, including camping trips and discount nights at local businesses. See what else is planned this year here

Continue reading SALEM HISTORY: How Salem went from a nine person Pride march to an annual celebration

Contact Keizertimes Staff:
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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