Prizm News / June 3, 2019 / By Ken Schneck
Exploring Ohio Pride celebrations about which you may not know…but should
By Ken Schneck
If your only idea of Pride in Ohio is the flagship events held in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, you are missing out on the rich tapestry of events that are held throughout the state. From the 23-year-old throwing an inaugural Pride for a town numbering less than 1800 people, to the exultant return of Black Pride in a major city, myriad community-based celebrations feature our neighbors working tirelessly to put together a Pride endemic to the needs of those around them. We selected six of those Prides that may be off your radar, spoke with the organizers, and present them here for your celebration, your inspiration, and, yes, your overall sense of Pride.
Newark Pride (June 8)
Inspired by a Pride celebration she saw in Lancaster, Trisha Pound was motivated to create something similar in her hometown of Newark, a small city 33 miles east of Columbus. In 2018, she created a public event on Facebook, asked for help from people who wanted to help organize Pride, and just hoped a few people would show up to a planning meeting. Before the meeting started, she ran out of chairs.
“Watching people pour in that room was one of the proudest moments of my life,” beams Pound.
Even with the planning support, the expectation was that maybe 300-ish attendees would show up to the actual Pride celebration. Over a thousand members of the community turned up, making it the largest event ever held at the Canal Market District and guaranteeing that a 2019 Pride simply had to take place in Newark.
Over the past year, the event spawned a 501c3 (“Newark Ohio Pride Coalition”) and more grand plans for this year’s Pride, including live music, good trucks, guest speakers, HIV/STI testing, kid-friendly activities, and an after-party at Thirty One West. The event continues to defy any and all expectations.
“I would like people in Newark to see that we have family and friends and jobs and we are part of the Newark community together,” says Pound. “The most special thing for me is when parents come up to me and tell me that their kids had a blast.”
Columbus Community Pride (events throughout June, (Festival on June 15)
Inclusivity, safety, and empowerment stand at the heart of Columbus Community Pride, a celebration that was created in 2018 to center queer and trans people of color in the Pride narrative.
“Big city prides have become heavily corporate, which devalues the individual, and feature a plethora of alcohol choices for a community that has a big problem with addiction,” says Helen Stewart, one of the event organizers. “Columbus Community Pride diversifies who is able to plan the event, giving the most marginalized and disenfranchised a voice, which then inherently uplifts queer and trans people of color.”
Last year’s festivities included a kick-off party, a film screening, a zine release party/cookout, a community art collage dedicated to Marsha P. Johnson, and culminated in the Community Pride Festival featuring performances and visual art by queer and trans artists of color, a community resource fair, POC-owned food trucks, and a whole lot of celebration, creativity and joy. The 2019 will showcase more of the same, as well as the opportunity for the community to decide on one of the events during a planning meeting.
“We have consistently heard the feedback that people feel comfortable going to one if not more of these events,” notes Stewart. “The educational opportunities, the lack of police presence, and the affirming vibe all contribute to filling a need for a Pride celebration where everyone feels safe, comfortable, and celebrated.”
Cincinnati Black Pride (June 19-23)
Years ago, Cincinnati residents Doug and Greg Cooper Spencer organized the Open Eyes Festival, but when they moved to New York in 2009, the festivities left with them.
Enter: Tim’m T. West. The Cincinnati native/artist/educator returned to his Ohio roots inspired by the events in Atlanta, Washington D.C., and the Bay Area. He was determined to create a Pride that taps into one of the largest concentrations of black LGBTQ individuals in the Midwest.
“It’s all about visibility and celebrating rich history of the black LGBTQ community in Cincinnati,” says West. “Rather than be oppositional to Cincinnati Pride, the goal is to align it with pride activities while having it stand on its own.”
The 2018 festival featured 5 days of activities, which included interfaith services, educational events, and the Black Alphabet Film Festival—of which West is a co-founder—making Cincinnati only the second city to host the event after Chicago. The theme for the week was appropriately titled, “We’re Back. We’re Black. Get Used To It.”
With Cincinnati Black Pride now back in the mix after that decade long absence, the 2019 theme represents this triumphant return: “We Are Royalty.” The event is incorporating, awaiting their non-profit status, and boasts a circle of supporters who stand at the ready to support the celebration.
“We are kicking off with awards given to elder and youth for their leadership, celebrating the full continuum of leadership, and centering the experience of black trans people and their role in the movement,” says West. “That visibility and that pride, that’s what it’s all about.”
West Liberty Pride (June 22)
“West Liberty is definitely a small town,” laughs Logan Boggs. “3 stop lights, 13 churches, 2 pizza places, and 1 gas station.”
And yet the 23-year-old saw the potential for Pride where others would have just assumed the tiny town in central Ohio town would be decidedly lacking in support. After seeing a distinct lack of rainbow flags around town, Boggs decided that 2019 would be the inaugural year for a Pride celebration in this 1798 person town he has called home his entire life. But to pull it all off, he needed support. Turning to crowd-source funding, Boggs set up a modest goal, not quite knowing if the community would step up to support the creation of Pride.
“We hit and then exceeded our goal in under two months,” beams Boggs. “This is going to help us reach as many people as possible.”
The West Liberty celebration will feature a parade with floats and marchers starting at one edge town, marching through the heart of the community, and ending in Lion’s Club Park. A celebration will follow complete with live bands, food trucks, vendors, and voter registration. Though this is a new and untested event for a small community that has a church for nearly every 100 residents, the very creation of this Pride can be declared an unqualified success.
“I’ve talked to people in high school who are newly out and older people who had to live a double life to hide their identity,” says Boggs. “Every single person across the board tells me how much the creation of this Pride means to them. It’s affecting so many people and it hasn’t even gone off yet!”
Youngstown Pride Parade and Festival (June 29)
First organized in 2009, the Youngstown Pride Festival is now entering its second decade of existence, with more experience than most other smaller town prides in Ohio. It all started when Carlos Rivera saw a need and set out to do something about it.
“Akron, Dayton and other smaller cities didn’t have Pride, and I figured if Youngstown could do it, anyone could,” says Rivera, the Festival Chair. “I got together with a few friends, decided to do it, and we did it.”
Rivera estimates that between 800 and 1000 attendees participate annually, and the organizers challenge themselves every year to book entertainment that is both different and local. The 2019 offering will feature local singers, comedians, and the ever-popular drag show. There will also be social service organizations represented as well as health screenings to make sure the LGBTQ community is as supported as possible.
While previous incarnations had been held in July, this year’s festivities were moved back to June to be consistent with other celebrations. For Rivera, he has most definitely seen the difference that Pride has made in Youngstown over the years.
“In the 11 years since Pride, I’ve been seeing more people who are out,” observes Rivera. “So even if it’s just me on a stage, I’ll do it. Because Youngstown Pride must go on.”
Porstmouth Pride (June 29)
Not only might you be surprised that there is a Pride celebration in Portsmouth, Ohio, but you certainly would surprised by the organization that sponsors it: a church!
In response to a rash of teen suicides, the Portsmouth Welcoming Community, a Community of Christ congregation, organized Pride so that people didn’t feel like they were alone.
“About 400-500 people attended last year’s Pride, which was unexpected and heartwarming,” says Bennie Blevens, one of the organizers. “We were concerned about protesters and negativity, but there was none of that at the event.”
The 20,000 person community sits on the north Bank of the Ohio River, a stone’s throw from Kentucky. The community has a tradition of being very conservative, thus making it all the more important to have Pride sponsored by a faith-based organization. This year, the plan is to extend Pride by a few hours, allowing more time for the bands, singer-songwriters, drag queens, and recognition of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. The goal is to create an event that is as consistent with Pride as it is with Portsmouth.
“For a church organization to sponsor a small town, family atmosphere Pride in this area gives people a different perspective on it than some of the more traditional Prides around Ohio,” says Blevins. “It puts some people’s minds at ease. It shows that LGBTQ people are just people. That truly makes a difference.”