Inaugural Pride Festival offers moment for celebration

Liz Dunaway holds up a pride flag on the steps of City Hall in Bowling Green, Ky following a City Commissioners meeting on Feb. 21. The meeting’s Agenda included the fairness ordinance in Bowling Green, but the item was pushed to a later date. In protest to the lack of acknowledgement towards the ordinance, citizens of Bowling Green gathered outside of city hall and expressed their concerns.

Chris DiMeo

In 1999, Patricia Minter wrote her first letter to the city of Bowling Green calling for the implementation of a city-wide fairness ordinance to protect members of the LGBTQ community from legal discrimination in their homes and workplaces.

Though her letter was one of many that prompted the Human Rights Commission to advise passing the ordinance to the City Commission, the city did nothing. The city hadn’t taken any action nor discussed the issue in the City Commission, even by 2012, when Minter and fellow members of Bowling Green Fairness, an LGBTQ fairness-oriented organization co-founded by Minter, geared up to retake significant action. Showing their support in numbers, they filled the City Commission chamber and called for discussion.

Once again, there was no discussion.

“That’s been the pattern around here,” Minter said, sitting in her office on WKU’s campus and wading through a deluge of text messages, emails and letters about upcoming fairness action and events. “We’re working very hard to change the pattern.”

In December of 2015, Bowling Green Fairness increased the fervor of their action, organizing series of speakers to testify in front of the City Commission about the need and support for a fairness ordinance. In 2016, three candidates for the Commission ran on predominantly pro-fairness platforms. None of the three were elected.

The situation took a refreshing turn, however, in February of this year, when newly elected commissioner Slim Nash introduced a fairness ordinance for discussion. Though the motion did not receive a second and was not able to move forward, Minter said this was a historical precedent.

Bowling Green Fairness’s efforts have not died down. Speakers have continued to address the Commission regularly, and supporters make a significant presence at every Commission meeting.

“We will continue to do so until Bowling Green passes their fairness law and this becomes a place where everyone has the rights that should belong to us all,” Minter said.

Minter said she has been fighting for fairness in Bowling Green for 18 years. Others have been fighting for even longer.

This year, however, for the first time in Bowling Green, members of the LGBTQ community will pause the fight to look back on their progress, look towards the future and celebrate diversity and unity at the inaugural Bowling Green Pride Festival.

The Pride Festival, organized and hosted by Bowling Green Fairness, will take place at Circus Square Park on October 21 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and will feature food, music, shopping, drag performances and more.

According to the official Facebook page of Bowling Green Fairness, local bands will be playing live at the festival, including Just Us, Willie Thomas Huston’s Queergrass and Heron and Crane.

The event’s entertainment will also provide viewers with the opportunity to witness something of local history, said Aeryn Darst, a program specialist at the WKU Center for Citizenship and Social Justice, as well as an organizer for the Pride Festival.

“This is definitely going to be the first time that Bowling Green has drag in the middle of the day in Circus Square Park, I think we can say that for certain,” they said.

Additionally, there will be attractions for families as well, such as children’s activities and a non-profit informational fair, Minter said.

“I’m pretty sure that everywhere you turn, there’s going to be something that’s really, really exciting,” Darst said.

Following the festival, Minter and her associates will lead a march in support of the fairness ordinance, and then return to a note of celebration once again in the second annual Love Takes Over Pride Crawl at 7 p.m.

The Pride Crawl will be an organized bar-hopping event that takes participants across many downtown bars, including Gerard’s, Rocky’s, Micki’s on Main, White Squirrel Brewery, Tidball’s and Shots, said Darst.

Many of the bars will also have unique pride-themed drink specials, they said.

Though the primary purpose of the crawl is to unwind and have fun, they said, it is also meant to show the presence of the LGBTQ community and allies, who support the fairness ordinance.

“I’m really hopeful that it will have an impact [on the progress of the fairness campaign],” Darst said. “I mean, there are going to be a lot of people coming out for that, so the actual monetary impact is pretty big, and that’s something the City Commission takes very seriously.”

While the event is not all about money or about addressing the City Commission, they said, both the Pride Festival and the crawl have this dual tone of simultaneous celebration and activism.

“We want the LGBTQ community and allies to come and feel welcome and safe and know that we are celebrating this beautiful community,” Minter said. “But we’re also making it clear that this is a large group of people who want a fairness ordinance, and it’s past time for them to have equal rights and equal justice under law.”

The festival is open to all people—members of the LGBTQ community, allies and those who are merely interested in learning more—she said.

“I cannot live in a world where injustice exists without doing something to make that positive change,” she said. “That’s what the fairness movement is working on, and Pride is going to be a day of celebration for everybody who wants to be there and be part of the community that day to celebrate what we’ve done, the community that currently exists, and everything that it is going to become.”

Despite the long battle she and her fellow members of Bowling Green Fairness have fought in City Commission, Minter said she does not expect there to be coordinated resistance to the festival.

“Well, the ‘resistance’ in City Commission has been that no one has been willing to second Commissioner Nash’s motion so that it can be discussed on the floor,” she said.

She said she feels this is more of a case of passive-aggression or apathy than resistance and does not expect it to interfere with the Pride Festival.

“We’re celebrating the opportunity to be out there on a lovely day with vendors and nonprofits and performers, and, you know, do something that has never been done here,” she said.

Since a pride festival in Warren County is an unprecedented event, Minter said she cannot begin to imagine what the turnout will be.

“Just about every single person who I know, even just casually, is like, ‘yeah, of course, I’m going to be there,’” Darst said.

They said that, while the Pride Festival is new and they don’t expect it to parallel the annual city International Festival in attendance anytime soon, they said they hope it can inspire the same feeling of community-wide happiness. And hopefully one day, it will be as big as the International Festival as well.

Most of all, Minter said, her highest hopes for the Pride Festival are that members of the LGBTQ community and allies can gather in unity and show support for one another.

“I think Kentucky is becoming a state of fairness,” she said.

By being visible to the rest of the local community, she said she hopes this will inspire ordinary people, as well as the City Commission, to support the fairness movement and the LGBTQ community as a whole.

“It’s going to be a very special day in this city,” Minter said. “And it’s going to make history.”

Digital reporter Chris DiMeo can be reached at [email protected]