LGBTQ dinner celebrates family, improved facility
By William K. Alcorn
It’s family, said members of the LGBTQ community who made themselves comfortable Saturday at their Stonewall Community Center for the annual Mahoning Valley Pride Center Thanksgiving dinner.
The event, designed to promote togetherness for the LGBTQ community and supportive allies, also coincided with the rededication of the center after months of renovations, said Pride Center Chairman Dario Hunter.
“We have so much to be thankful for this year – our enduring sense of community, the great strides made by local heroes and the dedication and hard work that has allowed us to maintain and improve upon our safe space for LGBTQ residents here in the Valley,” Hunter said.
LGBTQ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, which stands for queer or questioning.
The Mahoning Valley Pride Center, not to be confused with the Pride Center of Greater Youngstown, is in its 19th year of serving the LGBTQ community in the Valley. It sees the modest upgrade of its physical space as a key development in the progress of community building for the groups it serves. Its meeting space not only provides room for center events, but also for other LGBTQ groups to grow and succeed, Hunter said.
The dinner was sponsored by Mahoning Valley Pride and other LGBTQ groups, Full Spectrum and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
“It’s important to have a physical location in which you can be yourself without disguise,” said Tom Copeland, who provided the turkey for the covered-dish dinner and is one of the founding members of the center. The group previously met at First Unitarian-Universalist Church of Youngstown, which Copeland described as a “welcoming church” for people in the LGBTQ community.
“There were 10 of us gay men and women and one straight woman in the founding group,” Copeland said.
“It’s important to have the sense of family that this place provides, particularly during holidays,” said Danielle Rose and Alex Frey, both of Youngstown.
A 20-year-old transfemale, who “came out” after her 19th birthday, said her family threw her out and disowned her.
“They are family ... my only family. They don’t judge me,” she said of the other people enjoying the Thanksgiving dinner with her.
Despite continuing problems, Hunter said the Mahoning Valley is a “comparatively comfortable” place to be LGBTQ because of Mahoning Valley Pride and other groups supporting the community.
Knowing they are not alone and having this community to turn to has emboldened people to come out, Hunter said.
“We always want to connect with people of like minds. The LGBTQ minority is so maligned, it is crucial to having a sense of being comfortable and to belong in the Mahoning Valley,” he said.
Copeland said the Thanksgiving dinner attracted about the same number Saturday as the 2015 dinner, but they were mostly new faces.
“That gives me hope,” he said.