For years, Greg Jamiel had been talking about starting a group for LGBTQ residents in the Valley, but had never gotten around to it.
Then one January night, while listening to local rock band Eden at Miller’s in Carnation, and feeling the room’s infectious energy, he decided it was time to act.
After seeing many friends come and go in recent years — and a flurry of anti-LGBTQ sentiment being expressed across the country — Jamiel realized if there was ever a time to do something, it was now.
That same weekend, using his background as a motion designer, he created a website and SnoValley Pride was born.
Jamiel, a Carnation resident, admits he was not sure what the reaction would be when he first began promoting the group. But so far, he has been pleasantly surprised to find the more he publicizes it, the more support it receives.
“There was no negativity,” he said. “I think that’s a real testament to our community that we want this.”
Although a youthful group, SnoValley Pride aims to be an umbrella organization, Jamiel said. They plan to promote and put on a range of events, from block parties and fashion shows to trivia nights. He said the goal is to provide a safe space for LGBTQ residents to connect with one another.
“There’s something to be said for having people in your own community to connect with and talk in a way only they’d understand,” he said.
Part of the group’s ethos is challenging the stigma that rural communities are not progressive, Jamiel said. While they may not have a huge visible presence, there are a ton of LGBTQ residents in the Valley, he said.
“The real goal of this is building community and seeing that there’s more friends out there to have,” Jamiel said.
As of late February, the group already had 26 residents just from Carnation interested in volunteering. The group will hold its first volunteer meeting this month.
SnoValley Pride also struck up partnerships with the local nonprofit A Supportive Community For All, along with businesses that have been putting small pride stickers in their windows to signify their support. They have been invited to participate in the Carnation 4th of July Parade, BrodieNation Music Festival and other events.
The positivity comes as a change of pace during a turbulent time for LGBTQ rights.
State legislatures across the country have advanced record numbers of anti-LGBTQ bills in recent sessions — particularly focused on transgender youth. In 2023, 409 such bills were introduced nationwide, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, including two in Washington.
Recalling his own experience, Jamiel said when he came out as gay while growing up in Rhode Island, he was shunned and he received “not the best response.” More recently, he points out it was less than eight years ago that same-sex couples were awarded the right to marry.
Yet, while acknowledging the new state bills and that Washington lives in “a bit of a bubble,” Jamiel said it is encouraging to see progress in recent years, and its impact on the next generation.
“It’s inspiring to me to see kids that are growing up and will not have to go through this self hate or self judgment that I went through,” he said. “Nobody should have to live with that.”
Visibility, Jamiel said, will be the key to additional progress and reducing stigmas. That’s something he hopes SnoValley Pride will contribute to.
“If you see more LGBTQ people who are standing up and being confident and being themselves and shining their light, it makes it easier for everyone else,” he said. “And I want to help them do that.”