Pride event returns to raise LGBTQ awareness, meet community needs in Franklin County

CHAMBERSBURG – Pride Franklin County 2019 was held on Sunday, Aug. 4, from 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. at The Orchards (1580 Orchard Dr.). The family-friendly event was presented by Franklin County Coalition for Progress to raise the visibility and awareness of the LGBTQ community in Franklin County.

Highlights of Pride Franklin County 2019 included a drag show featuring Kalorie Karbdashian from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” dance-centered activities led by Brandon Riojas and Chi Chi Ray Colby, and more than 40 vendors.

Admission to the event was free, but VIP packages were available.

Nathan Strayer, chair of Pride Franklin County, explained that even though the event was relatively new, it had already grown substantially since the its debut in 2018.

“The plan was to start something to judge what was needed in the area,” Strayer said of Pride’s early days in Franklin County. “Is it something that would go off well? Is it something that people would feel comfortable coming out to?”

Strayer explained that while community support on the actual day of the Pride event is important, Pride is also a venue for people to learn about and access support resources throughout the rest of the year.

By studying the reactions to the inaugural event and conducting online surveys, the organization hoped to identify the specific needs of the community and then create an event that met those needs.

“This year, with Pride, we’ve built on it,” said Strayer. “We brought in more of the health care industry, some more support systems and so forth, and started talking to larger businesses in the area to say, ‘Hey, people want to know where they’re safe.’”

He added: “If you’re part of the LGBTQ community in Franklin County, a lot of times you’re afraid to ask. Some of the places around here aren’t online and easy to find, so we want to be that gateway to help them realize that those places are there.”

Strayer also discussed how the lack of resources or the inability to find those resources can lead to a cultural drain as people leave Franklin County and find acceptance elsewhere.

“I feel like so many people leave this area because of this reason and do amazing things,” he said referring to the rejection that he experienced when he came out in high school. “It’s sad because it’s really unfortunate for the town.”

Despite the organization’s initial hesitancy about how a Pride event would be received by the community, more and more people showed up to each planning meeting.

“We’ve seen that resource grow, which is allowing us to make the entire event much better,” he said. “People are the biggest thing. And then the sponsors.”

Noel Purdy, president of Franklin County Coalition for Progress, the volunteer-run 501(c)(3) organization that presented the event, was on her feet helping to manage the volunteers, businesses and sponsors with the help of an in-ear walkie-talkie headset.

“With a lot of volunteer support, we are able to coordinate this event,” said Purdy. “We have over 40 vendors representing different businesses, nonprofits, social organizations – a good, diverse group of organizations who are here, including churches.”

She added: “We feel good bout the representation of people who support diversity and inclusion in Franklin County and want to spread that message through our event.”

One of the Facebook Ads for the event read, “PRIDE doesn’t care how small your town is,” which indicated the significance of Pride events to rural communities.

While the events in larger cities tend to draw national attention, Purdy said that Pride events are important everywhere because the LGBTQ community is a part of the larger community whether people are aware of it or not.

“Even in rural communities like Chambersburg and Franklin County,” she said. “I think it’s even maybe more important to have more visibility because it’s easy for folks to feel not included for various cultural reasons. There are distinctions made between urban and rural communities so we feel a heightened sense of accountability and mission to make sure that there’s a visibility here.”

Amanda Hann had attended the 2018 Pride event with her family, and she said that they had such a good time that she returned in 2019 as a volunteer.

While the high temperatures of the mostly outdoor event were the same, she spoke of the event’s year-over-year growth.

“I think there’s more people involved,” said Hann, “and I think it’s showing that more people are starting to understand and accept it and love everybody.”

Hann spoke of the various tasks performed by volunteers, which included handing out VIP passes and wristbands, guiding people to activities and parking, and providing security.

“Really, we’re just out to make sure that everyone is enjoying themselves,” she said.

Some of the volunteers were also Silent Witness Peacekeepers who stood at the edge of the event with clearly labeled vests and rainbow umbrellas.

“Silent Witnesses are there to protect the rights of everybody, meaning the protesters as well as our people that are in Pride,” explained Whit Bender, a volunteer and a Silent Witness. “What we do is we silently witness, block out signage, things that would antagonize people at Pride events while also protecting and keeping the peace.”

“We are not counterprotestors, we’re peacekeepers,” said Bender.

Silent Witnesses received a two-hour training session that discussed de-escalation and stressed that roadside debates are not going to change anybody’s mind. Instead, Silent Witnesses stand between protesters and counterprotesters as a buffer to defuse tense situations before they have a chance to become conflicts.

The efforts of the Silent Witnesses were successful, and the Pride event went off without incident, which is not only a success for this year’s event, but it also increases the likelihood that there will be a Pride Franklin County 2020.

“Silent Witnesses are so important because if there are fights and confrontations, then we won’t be able to have Pride again,” explained Bender. “We won’t be able to support our cause, and venues won’t accept us. We could lose vendors. We could lose support if people are being arrested.”

For Nathan Strayer, plans for Pride Franklin County 2020 are already in the works.

Just as 2019 built on the success of 2018, Strayer spent the day studying what could be improved for the next event.

“I’ve been thinking about next year since probably about three months ago,” said Strayer.

He laughed, but he wasn’t joking.

“We’ll probably take a couple of weeks to relax and try to catch up on sleep, and then we’ll meet and we’ll do a debrief, talk about what worked, what didn’t – all that kind of stuff – and then jump into next year.”

[Main image caption: Tim Bowlin and Chuck Keahey pose at Pride Franklin County 2019 where they distributed flowers with cards attached promoting New Light, a Metropolitan Community Church, in Hagerstown, MD.]

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