Bobby Snyder waited until he was 18 to come out as gay to his best friend. He continued to keep his secret an additional five months before finally opening up to his family.
He says he waited because he wasn’t sure what support, if any, he would receive in return.
“The only support I had, really, was my best friend ,who is also gay, and I think that was why it was so hard to come out,” Snyder said.
Despite his worries, Snyder, now 22 and a student at Lower Columbia College, said the reaction he received from his family was nothing but positive.
“When I came out, and I told my mom she said, 'it’s about time' and started calling family members and said 'yup, he’s gay,’” Snyder said, laughing as recalled the memory.
However, Snyder was quick to emphasize that not everyone in the LGBTQ community receives the same reaction. For this reason, Snyder said he felt it was necessary to host a Pride Day event in Longview with the goal of educating the public and to showcase local support for LGBTQ youth.
Snyder, who is president of LCC’s LGBTQ/Straight Alliance Club, hosted Pride Day on Friday at the college’s student center. More than 500 people came to the event to visit booths set up by representatives of such groups as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Rainbow Community, TransActive, the Oregon and Southwest Washington chapter of the Human Rights Campaign and the Crime Victim Advocacy Program.
“The point of this event was to educate people. We are just the same — we breathe the same air,” Snyder said. “We want to be part of the community and be accepted for who we are, and I think more people definitely understand that.”
Youth of all ages, including some families, walked among the booths, many of which overflowed with flyers and pamphlets touting LGBTQ services. Free popcorn and multi-colored slushies were doled out to visitors.
Not all visitors who attended the Pride Day event were supportive, however.
“There were a few people that did come up to the booths and said, you know, ‘I don’t support gays. I don’t think they should be around or have the same rights,’” Snyder said, adding that he also received odd stares from people during the weeks leading up to the event when he was hanging posters throughout town.
PFLAG, LCC’s LGBTQ/Straight Alliance Club and the Rainbow Community were the only local LGBTQ-specific groups in attendance. A representative of Longview United Methodist Church also was in attendance. The church’s social justice committee works closely with PFLAG to support diversity in the community.
“There’s definitely support groups (in Longview),” Snyder said. “There just needs to be more resources, and that’s the reason why we brought TransActive here and HRC and the Crimes Victims Advocacy Program, because they mainly provide resources that are beyond just being a support group. They’re an advocate.”
TransActive, a nonprofit organization that provides information and support for transgender youth, is based in Portland. To help those who can’t make frequent trips to the Portland office, those at TransActive provide support over the phone, said Seth Johnstone, who works with TransActive’s community education program and attended the Pride Day event.
“We want people to know transgender people exist and what types of support they have,” Johnstone said.
Still, Snyder said it would be more helpful for those seeking support in Longview to have resources closer to home.
“There are some people I know who are transgender, and they have to go to Portland to get the resources they need,” Snyder said. “It’s such a hassle because they have to pay for gas and pay for parking and it’s like it’s a whole day’s trip. They wish they had that resource here in town.”
According to HRC’s 2013 Municipal Equality Index, an online database that tracks support of the LGBTQ community by city, Portland received a score of 100, the highest score a city can receive. Vancouver received a score of 66. Longview and Kelso have not yet been rated.
The index rates cities based on non-discrimination laws, relationship recognition, municipality as employer, municipal services, law enforcement and relationship with the LGBTQ community.
Even with the few resources available, Snyder said he believes Longview is gradually becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ community. Hosting a Pride Day in Longview is a big step in itself, he said.
“Definitely this is a milestone here in our community,” Snyder added.