Pride Festival showcases value of diversity and unity

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By Sean Barron


Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people will tell you that much progress has been made regarding others’ acceptance of their sexual orientation and the rights they have gained, but that a long road toward achieving equal treatment remains ahead.

That scenario likely played out in the level of gradual openness with which Rachael Lowe and Katelyn Davis felt comfortable expressing their love and affection for each other.

“Three years ago, we wouldn’t have done this in public,” said Davis, of Struthers, referring to openly displaying signs of affection toward Lowe, her partner of 21/2 years. “It shouldn’t have ever been a problem.”

Davis and Lowe, also of Struthers, said they fear that given the current political climate, LGBTQ people’s right to marry, among other things, could be threatened or taken away.

Nevertheless, the two feel their lifestyles are accepted by most people in Youngstown, hundreds of whom came together with them for Saturday’s 10th annual LGBT Pride Parade and Festival.

Pride Youngstown hosted the downtown events, which also included a reception and an art auction Friday evening at the Soap Gallery, 117 S. Champion St.

Preceding the fest that filled Phelps Street between West Federal and West Commerce streets was a colorful quarter-mile parade that began shortly past noon at Vindicator Square and Federal Street.

The grand marshal was Denise Russell, a longtime female impersonator perhaps best known for his comedy acts, impersonations and support of funding for HIV/AIDS research. Russell, who performed at the former Troubadour Lounge on the South Side, also is said to be the only female impersonator to have performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.

Throngs of people of all ages crowded the narrow street for the all-day festival, which had more than 40 beer, food and other vendors. A main thrust was to showcase the value of diversity and unity, said Atty. Kim Akins, an event organizer.

Dedicated to those virtues was a group called Flavva Media, a local group that has a partnership with Three and a Half Gays, a podcast that hosts a variety of musical productions and hires area performers.

James Major Burns, Three and a Half Gays’ co-founder, said his organization also has a partnership with the Youngstown Playhouse. Assisting him at the fest were members Nikita Jones and Trevail Maurice.

Accompanying them was Najiyah Burgess of Black Owl Eventz, a party-planning business that hosts bridal showers, children’s birthday parties and other special occasions.

Among the festival’s offerings were health screenings and healthcare information, help for those trying to overcome addictions, a booth for people to register to vote, activities such as face-painting and plenty of on-stage entertainment that included Russell. Items for sale included rainbow flags, T-shirts, beads, necklaces, hair feathers, rings and buttons.

Since the parade and festival’s debut in 2008, many positive steps have been made toward greater equality for the LGBTQ community, such as the legalization of gay marriage and gay people serving in the military. Nevertheless, today’s political climate could lead to some progress being rolled back, said city Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th, who’s also a Pride Youngstown member.

In addition, recent years have seen an uptick in hate crimes, many targeting the LGBTQ community, she noted.

“For every two steps forward, there’s one step back,” Davis said, adding that such a pattern often holds true for many social movements.

For these reasons and others, this year’s parade came with an added sense of urgency, said Christopher Anderson of Boardman, the Mahoning County Democratic Party’s political director.

“We’re here to show solidarity with the LGBT community,” he said. “It’s important to remind people that the LGBT community is not asking for special treatment, but for equal treatment.”

Also happy to have assisted with setting up and organizing various aspects of the event was Mike Miller, who traveled three hours from his Columbus home for the fest and parade.

“I’m pleased to see people come together in the name of equality and for unity” locally and statewide, he said.

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