More than 200 people marched down Market Street wearing rainbow clothing or flags, holding signs and doing whatever they could to support the gay and lesbian community as part of the Youngstown Pride Festival.
Saturday’s procession, which opened the second day of the festival, included more than double the number of people in the parade two years ago, said parade organizer John Vivo. It featured about 20 units and a number of people who simply walked with the group.
“There are people who are coming now that were afraid to come out in the past,” he said.
There is a perception of gay men as just being effeminate and liking to dress up as women, Vivo said. This event is a chance to show various sides of the lesbian, gay and transgender community, he added.
A number of issues still face the gay and lesbian community, he said, adding that people need to understand “we’re born this way.”
“There is one boy who came this year whose parents threw him out on the street at 16 [for being gay], disowned him with nothing but the clothes on his back,” Vivo said. “Luckily, he found some good people to take care of him.”
One of the big things is just to come out and show that Youngstown has pride with the gay community, said Chad Beasley, who is part of the group Leather Exiles, which led the parade.
A lot of people have a certain perception about the gay community and what is means to be gay, said Jeffrey Cornelius, another Leather Exiles member.
“Some people just don’t feel they belong with what they perceive as gay. This group might be somewhere where they would feel welcome,” he said.
Anita Davis of Youngs-town Pride said the festival has received a lot of new support this year. A number of area politicians and a lot of new businesses are now involved, she said.
“These aren’t just businesses owned by gay people,” she said, adding, “It’s great to see the increased support and exposure.”
The additional attention will help with the organization’s goal to provide outreach, she said.
Youngstown Pride recognized three citizens during the opening reception: Rob Joki, head of The Rust Belt Theater Company; Don Rowinsky of Stonewall Democrats, a group that supports gay and lesbian causes; and former Youngstown Police Chief Jimmy Hughes. Hughes was honored for his support of the festival and of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues during his time as chief, Davis said.
The Pride Festival continues today with a family picnic from 1 to 6 p.m. at the B&O Station Park.