33 years and counting, Esprit returns to Port Angeles

Northwest’s largest transgender convention kicks off Sunday

PORT ANGELES — The Pacific Northwest’s largest transgender convention — the Esprit Gala — returns to Port Angeles on Sunday, with a week full of classes and events for the LGBT community.

With the exception of two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, Esprit has been held at the Red Lion Hotel in downtown Port Angeles every year since 1990, according to Suzanne Adams, the event’s co-chair and vice president of the Emerald City Social Club, a Seattle-based transgender group.

“Esprit started with the joining of the three Northwest transgender clubs, [Emerald City of Seattle; the Cornbury Society of Vancouver, British Columbia and the NorthWest Gender Alliance of Portland],” Adams said. “We pooled some resources and began the convention in 1990 and it’s been pretty much every year except for the Covid years.”

The convention is held at the Red Lion Hotel, and typically features between 100-120 guests, Adams said. Mostly the convention is classes and lectures aimed at the transgender community, Adams said, but a gala and a talent show are open to the public.

The talent show — or, as Adams jokingly called it, the “no-talent show” — is held at the Naval Elks Lodge on First Street and features, singers, dancers and comedians. The Esprit Gala is held at the Red Lion Hotel and features a live band and dancing. The talent show this year is scheduled for Friday, May 19 and the gala Saturday, May 20. Both events start at 6 p.m. and are 21-and-older events.

Both of those events come with a suggested donation of $5, but because 100 percent of the profits are donated to Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County, Adams said attendees often donate more. Adams said Esprit has raised nearly $60,000 for the hospice over the years.

“We chose Clallam County hospice as a charity that we wanted to support from the beginning because hospice touches everybody’s lives eventually,” Adams said.

Port Angeles has always been very welcoming to Esprit, Adams said, and is one of the city’s largest conventions.

“The Port Angeles community has been welcoming,” Adams said. “We’ve always presented ourselves with dignity, class and respect, and in turn, we’ve been treated the same way by the citizens of Port Angeles.”

But despite the welcome from the community, there are still concerns about privacy and safety, Adams said.

Registration is required for most of the events and the gala offers a “no photos” sticker for attendees who want them.

“We’re a little concerned with some of the politics surrounding the trans community this year, so we don’t openly say, ‘hey, come to our convention.’ We have to be a little bit cautious,” Adams said. “If you go back 33 years, people weren’t aware of LGBT communities. People were worried about losing their jobs. We’ve been under the radar for most of the time.”

Several Republican-controlled state legislatures have recently passed laws aimed at restricting gender-affirming care and limiting drag shows. Conversely, Democratic-controlled states, including Washington, have passed laws protecting transgender rights.

Adams said Esprit had a good relationship with local law enforcement, both in Clallam County and elsewhere. Several members of the Seattle Police Department have presented on LGBT-relations at past Esprit conventions, and Adams said she’s been in contact with the Port Angeles Police Department and Clallam County Sheriff’s Office.

“Police are well represented at our convention and well received, and it’s a symbiotic relationship,” Adams said. “We educate them, they educate us and through that relationship, we increase awareness.”

Esprit begins Sunday and ends May 21 and Adams said it’s an event that’s greatly anticipated every year.

“We love PA,” Adams said. “We enjoy the community there and really respect the way that we’ve been treated, so we’ve been back for 33 years.

“A big ‘thank you’ to the Port Angeles community for their support and the Red Lion who have been our sponsors every year.”

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsula dailynews.com.

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