Bowling Green holds second annual pride festival

Kailee Parker, 8, of Bowling Green, Ky., cheers in the front row for the drag performances with her mom, Devan Parker, at the 2018 Bowling Green Pride Festival. “We got family that we love,” said Devan. “We have a lot of gay people in the family. I’m teaching her to love tolerance.”

Nicole Ziege

Lady Gaga’s song, “Born This Way,” boomed through the speakers of a stage, decorated with five large pride flags billowing in the wind. One of several drag performers danced in front of an audience consisting of hundreds of parents, children, teenagers, WKU students, faculty and staff.

The audience sang along, holding their hands up, bobbing their heads and clapping at Bowling Green’s second annual pride festival at Circus Square Park. The event took place on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and included a “pride crawl” at 7 p.m. at LGBTQ-friendly restaurants and bars in Bowling Green.

Patti Minter, head of the Bowling Green Fairness Movement and 20th District Kentucky State Representative candidate, welcomed the festival attendees at the start of the event.

“This festival is about celebrating what makes our community great,” Minter said.

Minter, who sponsored the event with her husband Michael Minter, said the festival allowed for those in the LGBTQ community to be themselves and helped bring awareness to the importance of equality for the community.

“Pride is one of the most exciting times of year,” Minter said. “I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my day.”

The Bowling Green Fairness Movement has supported the passing of a Fairness Ordinance in Bowling Green, which is the largest city in Kentucky without a Fairness Ordinance. Without the Fairness Ordinance, anyone in Bowling Green can be legally discriminated against in housing, employment and other public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Only 10 cities in Kentucky have passed a Fairness Ordinance, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories to existing civil rights laws. Maysville became the tenth Kentucky city to pass the ordinance on Aug. 9, 2018, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It’s past time for that to happen,” Minter said, regarding the passing of the ordinance.

Many in the crowd at the pride festival wore pride merchandise, including buttons, shirts and capes that were made from flags with specific colors that represented different sexualities and identities.

Ann Betrocelli and Susann Ogles, 68-year-old friends from Franklin, Kentucky, came to the festival for the second year, wearing matching headbands that featured the signature rainbow pride colors.

“It’s a guaranteed friendly crowd,” Betrocelli said. “It’s really a lot of fun.”

Ogles said she and Betrocelli considered themselves allies of the LGBTQ community and wanted to visit the festival to show their support.

“It’s important for the straight community to support the gay community,” Ogles said. “We’re not hassled for our lifestyle. Why should they be hassled for theirs?”

Alison Langdon, WKU English professor, came to the Bowling Green Pride Festival for the first time this year and said she came to celebrate equality for all people.

“I’m pleased to see how many people are here,” Langdon said. “It’s nice to see lots of people looking really happy.”

At the festival, there were performances by bands like Paisley Fields, Sugadaisy and Solar Disco Force, and there were drag performances by Lily McQueen Fitzgerald, Lexi Von Simmons, Mallory McQueen, Dick Sterling, Scarlett Mascara, Barbie Crash and Geneva LaDiva.

More than 15 tables were set up around Circus Square Park for attendees to purchase pride merchandise, including shirts, buttons, flags and balloon animals.

Those who set up tables at the event included the campaign of 32nd District Kentucky State Senate candidate Jeanie Smith; the campaign of 2nd District U.S. Representative for Kentucky candidate Hank Linderman; the WKU Alumni Association; Mellow Matt’s; WKU’s diversity and community studies and theater departments; and the Queer Student Union, a student group at WKU focused on providing resources, activities and support for LGBTQ students.

Barren County sophomore Jayden Thomas and Olden County sophomore Sabre Sumrau were two QSU members selling pride buttons at the table to fundraise for the student organization. They said 10 percent of their proceeds will be going to the Barren County Area Safe Space, a domestic violence shelter program for Barren County and Warren County, Kentucky.

Thomas said Bowling Green’s Pride Festival can be significant to college students from rural areas who may not be accepted by their families or communities.

“It’s the one place where you can find people like you who support you,” Thomas said.

Another student volunteer for the QSU table was WKU freshman Jillian Kenney, 18, who went to the festival for the second year. She said one of the highlights of the festival for her were the mothers at the festival giving away “free hugs.”

“Many people from the LGBTQ community may not have parents or families that accept them,” Kenney said. “It means a lot to me that they are doing that.”

Two of the mothers giving away “free hugs” at the pride festival included coworkers and Bowling Green natives Betsy Madison, 56, and Katrinka Wagoner, 47. The two women wore shirts that each read “Free Hug Mom” and hugged attendees of the festival as they passed them. They said they decided to give out hugs because everyone needs a hug.

“Many don’t get the acceptance they need and deserve,” Madison said. “Here at the festival, they can feel totally accepted and safe.”

Kristi Branham, WKU gender and women’s studies director, said she visited the festival to celebrate LGBTQ pride. Branham said she believed the best way for Bowling Green to support the LGBTQ community would be to pass a Fairness Ordinance.

During the festival, about four male protesters stood on the edge of Circus Square Park, holding large picket signs and delivering messages against homosexuality and the LGBTQ community. Mark, a 47-year-old Wisconsin protester, held a large protest sign that read “Homo sex is a sin.”

“Their love and acceptance for homosexuality is going to love and accept those people straight into hell,” Mark said. “I don’t want anyone to go to hell.”

Mark, who declined to give his last name or the name of his specific church, said he and the protesters were preaching the gospel of Christ to prevent the festival attendees from going to hell. Mark said he and the protesters also protest at abortion clinics, certain concerts and other places where they wanted to protest activities they considered sinful.

“We have this platform because we are using our freedom of speech,” Mark said.

A religious group at the festival that differed from the religious protesters included the First Christian Church located in Bowling Green. The church set up a table at the event where attendees could write on a sign that asked, “What would you tell your younger self?”

Mike Morris, of the First Christian Church, said he was proud of his church’s inclusivity and acceptance of the LGBTQ movement.

“They have a different focus from us,” Morris said, regarding the protesters. “Our church preaches a message of love and acceptance.”

Bowling Green senior Catherine Harris said she identified as bisexual and enjoyed the festival for its emphasis on love and acceptance. She said the festival showed another side to the city of Bowling Green and the state of Kentucky that many may not see, which is a side of acceptance and love.

“I have always believed that everyone deserves love,” Harris said. “As long as you love somebody, that should be all that matters.”

Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow Nicole Ziege on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.

Editor’s note: a previous version of this story listed LaDiamond Sexton as a performer. LaDiamond was scheduled to perform but did not show up at the event. Geneva LaDiva did perform at Pride.