WEEKEND: Esprit celebration dances to flash style in Port Angeles
By Joe Smillie Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES –– In a zebra-print dress and teal fingernails, Krystal flipped through a thick binder filled with pop music hits looking for the perfect song to dazzle the karaoke set.
“If I pick a country song, do you think they'll drag me down the street by my boots?” Krystal asked.
A karaoke contest at Bar N9ne on Wednesday found attendees of the annual Esprit transgender conference singing alongside members of the Port Scandalous Roller Derby league.
This year is Krystal's 10th trip to the Esprit convention, now in its 25th year in Port Angeles.
Conventioneers have been meeting in conference rooms at the Red Lion Hotel and shopping all over town since the weeklong gathering began Sunday.
Many participated in “Girls' Night Out,” a downtown celebration with music, games and late store hours and specials Thursday evening.
Events continue through this weekend, with the public invited to such activities as the World-Famous Esprit Talent Show taking over the Elks Naval Lodge at 131 E. First St. at 8 tonight and the Saturday gala at 8 p.m. in the Red Lion's Juan de Fuca ballroom.
Both events include a $5 cover charge. Proceeds will be donated to Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County.
'This is me'
Krystal, from southern Oregon, overcame nerves to the point of dazzling the Bar N9ne crowd with Miranda Lambert's “I Hope You Dance,” the nervousness of walking down the street in knee-high boots having dissolved.
“This is me,” said Krystal, who lives full time in women's clothing.
Earlier in the conference, Krystal took a first-timer shopping out, saying she was “3 feet above the ground” openly shopping for women's clothes.
Esprit rookies often have a tough time when the convention ends and they lose that feeling of freedom and camaraderie, Lynn Goralski said.
“We call it Blue Monday,” said the veteran Goralski, a longtime Esprit attendee who works at a center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens in Tacoma.
“You're here, and everything seems so normal, so relaxed, and there's so much strength in just being around this number of people who feel like you do.
“Then you go back, and everything kind of deflates. It's still rough for me, and I'm in this community all the time.”
For Krystal, that Blue Monday was compounded by the isolation of a former career in information technology.
Now enrolled in college and living full time as a woman, Krystal has gained a new, more comfortable self-view.
“I was invisible for 14 years of my life,” Krystal said. “Now that I've come out and been honest and found a supportive community, I've realized I'm an extrovert. I really do love being around people.”
Krystal credited Port Angeles for that realization.
Being able to walk openly and feel safe and accepted led to that karaoke stage-style comfort, Krystal said.
“This town is so sweet,” Krystal said. “The way this town is not just accepting, not just friendly, but welcoming.
December 4, 2014 By Joe Crollard Peninsula College-The Buccaneer
Esprit Gala will return to Peninsula College in 2015. The Gala, a transgender conference formed back in 1990, has taken place in Port Angeles every year for more than 20 years. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, civil rights and equality relating to lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual individuals were still limited. Although momentum within the movement was growing, it wasn’t anywhere near what it is today.
After-all, 1996 was the year of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which strictly defined marriage as being between a man and woman under federal law, prohibiting the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. And at the time, it made sense. According to a poll by gallup.com, only 27 percent of Americans supported the legalization of same sex marriage. Flash forward to 2014 and according to that same source 55 percent of all Americans now support it, and nearly 8 out of 10 young adults believe it should be legal. Times have definitely changed. Despite the anti-gay politics of the 90’s, and perhaps the opposition that a conference like Esprit Gala could have faced, there was something unique about Port Angeles. Something welcoming.
Karen Williams, a transgender woman and one of the founding members of the Esprit conference, was amazed by the over-all acceptance. “It was amazing from the very beginning. We started by asking the police chief if it was ok for us to come to town. His response was positive.” Williams said. Once everything was in motion, there was very little opposition from the community as well. “We have had a few issues over the years like people yelling out of their cars at us but, for the most part people have been very accepting. I did notice more negative responses in the letters to the editor column years ago but people that I talk to in person have been very nice. We have not run into any strong discrimination that would prevent us from having the conference.” Since Esprit Gala’s debut, it has become a well known and unique part of our town and community. An event that not only offers a place for like-minded individuals to go out and have a good time with the folks of PA, but also as a vehicle to educate and enlighten the public, introducing them to various lifestyles that they may not have been accustom to. “The goal for the Esprit participants has been education (learning about transgender issues), exposure to the world outside their closet, giving back to the community (we give to the Clallam County Hospice each year) and lastly having a good time. These goals haven’t really changed over time.” Williams said. “We have seen many transgender people come through Esprit over the years. I think we have helped a lot of people experience their transgender nature. We have also met a large number of people from the Port Angeles community. This includes people that have grown up with Esprit.” Furthermore, the conference also includes a question and answer session that has taken place in Jeff Mauger’s sociology class at Peninsula College for years. During the event a panel of transgender individuals from the Esprit conference introduce themselves to students and explain the many different aspects of being transgendered, as well as the differences between gender identity, gender roles, sexual orientation, and more. Although Mauger has since retired and is no longer the Sociology professor, the plan is to return next year under Tara Martin Lopez. “We will return to Peninsula College for the Sociology class. I am the one who organizes the class and I did talk to Professor Mauger about putting in a good word to the new Sociology professor. I am sure we will be able to return.” Williams said. Whether gay, straight, bi-sexual, transgendered, or something in between, the importance of education and awareness of not only different sexualities or gender identities, but of diversities in general, is something needed in the era we live in. In a world with so many differences, the need for understanding and acceptance (or at least tolerance) is vital for any functioning society that wants to uphold equality for all of its citizens. Although one may or may not agree with someone’s life-style, in the end we are all people and deserving of respect.