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Op-ed: Thankful for PRIDEfest success

Last Saturday in City Park, I witnessed an outpouring of love, support, and courage that was unthinkable in Parkersburg two years ago. Over a thousand people gathered for the second annual Parkersburg PRIDEfest and family picnic. Over a thousand members of the LGBTQIA+ community, their friends, families, neighbors, teachers, ministers, and allies joined together to celebrate the diversity and progress of LGBTQIA+ people locally and around the state and country.

Though the sky was cloudy that afternoon, there were rainbows and beaming sunny faces everywhere you turned. Young people joyfully expressed their identities with their parents and siblings at their sides. A group of several dozen volunteers gave heartfelt “Free Mom and Dad Hugs.” Children played with a parachute, listened to stories of diversity, and painted suncatchers. They made slime with Ghostbusters and played with huge soap bubbles. The crowd danced to local band Back Porch Alibi, singer Sadie Johnson, and the cast of La Cage Aux Folles from the Actors Guild. Mistress of Ceremonies Lucy Lipps and her company delighted all with fun, family-friendly drag performances.

Attendees met representatives of more than 20 non-profit agencies from around the state addressing issues of health, faith, arts, foster care, and community building. They filled out health surveys and received free Hepatitis A vaccines. Folks consumed nearly a thousand hot dog lunches and hung out in the grass chatting with friends new and old. There were no strangers in the park that day.

And everywhere in the park, people stopped organizers and volunteers to thank us, to tell us how proud they are of this community, how hopeful they feel for our shared future here. My co-chair and I were brought to tears by families who shared stories of love and acceptance of their children, by young people who introduced us to their parents, by couples pushing strollers who wanted their toddlers to experience the festivities. Over and over that day and in the week since, we have been contacted by folks with one consistent message. There was so much love in the park that day.

A few years ago, many members of the local LGBTQIA+ community felt unwanted here. My, how that is changing.

Now, we have generous local businesses and foundations sponsoring us, including the Dietzler Foundation, First Settlement Physical Therapy, McHappy’s, Sheetz, McCarter Heath Center, Office Depot, The North End Tavern, Studio 618, Front Porch Properties, and The Coffee Bar. We have more than 60 volunteers who have given countless hours planning and working the event. The City of Parkersburg, under the leadership of Mayor Tom Joyce, assisted us tremendously. Our thanks go out to the Parks Department, the Electrical Department, the Solid Waste Authority, and Councilman Jeff Fox.

But most of all, I want to thank each of the members of the Parkersburg community who gathered for the afternoon in love and celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride. The residents of Parkersburg were generous and gracious in their support of one another and in welcoming visitors from around the state and region. I have never been prouder of our community. Thank you, Parkersburg! My heart is full. Please remember to be kind, because love always wins in the end.

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Jeanne Peters is a Vienna resident and business owner. She is a Board member of Parkersburg Pride and is the 2019 Parkersburg PRIDEfest Co-Chair.

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