BELLINGHAM - Robert Ashworth and Bruce Pettus sat on a white blanket in Maritime Heritage Park, a half-full bag of saltwater taffy between them, talking about gay pride.
"I'm careful to use the word myself. Pride can also mean arrogance," said Ashworth, 57. "But instead of being told you're a no-good nothing..." he trailed off.
"It's visibility," said Pettus, 63, who had dyed his hair electric blue. "Others, on the other side of the fence, say, 'Why do you need to flaunt it?' But it's just being visible."
Ashworth and Pettus, friends since the '90s, lazed in the park with a few dozen members and supporters of Bellingham's gay community on Saturday afternoon, July 14, for the Betty Pages Queer Family Picnic.
Free burgers were served at 12:30 p.m. to anyone who wanted them. The picnic is a precursor to Sunday's gay pride parade: the highlight of a five-day festival celebrating queer culture.
Each year, Ashworth said, Bellingham's event seems to get bigger. He came out to his parents in the mid-'70s while he was a student at Fairhaven College. The joke, he said, is he sent his course schedule to his parents, and the gay studies classes were a dead giveaway.
"'Here's my schedule, Mom,'" Pettus jumped in. "'Do you have any questions?'"
Thankfully, Ashworth said, he grew up in a liberal family, and his family accepted him for who he was.
"Dad just didn't want me to get into trouble, didn't want me to get beat up," Ashworth said.
Since the '70s, Bellingham has become more urban, and that's good for the gay community, Ashworth said. During the early years of the AIDS outbreak, a lot of people from California migrated "to Portland, Seattle and by turn, Bellingham," Pettus said.
But in those larger cities you have more drag queens, a bigger leather subculture. The list goes on, Ashworth said. In a smaller city like Bellingham, there just aren't as many people from each LGBT subculture.
"So we're kind of like a tapestry," he said. "We're very eclectic."
Lately, gay couples in Washington state have been in limbo as they wait to see if voters will uphold a marriage equality bill passed by the state Legislature earlier this year.
Pettus has been with his partner for 28 years. Of course he wants voters to support the marriage bill - but it's for his gay friends, not necessarily for him and his partner.
"I don't need a certificate to make me legitimate," he said.
Ashworth said he just isn't the marrying type.
SUNDAY PRIDE EVENTS
--The Bellingham Pride parade starts at noon Sunday, July 15, outside Bellingham High School, 2020 Cornwall Ave.
--It's followed by a festival at the Depot Market Square. The festival goes until 5 p.m.