Elation over recent court ruling fuels optimism at Lexington Pride Festival

bestep@herald-leader.comJune 29, 2013 

There was extra pride at the Lexington Pride Festival on Saturday.

People at the downtown festival were still elated about Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act's barring federal benefits for same-sex married couples.

"People are so excited about the Supreme Court ruling," said Paul Brown, president of the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization, which sponsors the festival. "That has pumped so many people up."

Festival-goers said it is an exciting time in the pursuit of equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, with developments in recent years such as states legalizing same-sex unions, the end of the ban on openly gay members of the military and the Supreme Court ruling.

"It seems like the tide has turned," said Roy Harrison, chairman of Lexington Fairness. "The pace of change that we've had over the last three years has been pretty remarkable."

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray spoke at the festival, saying the country has a long history of advancing equality and liberty for all people.

"This week America took another remarkable step forward on that path," he said to cheers.

Tara Hayes of Frankfort said the high-court decision was a "really good step in the right direction."

"For our country to move forward with actual equality, we have to include everybody," said Hayes, who was volunteering at a booth where people could subscribe to a lesbian magazine called Curve.

Hayes, who was with her girlfriend, Karen Alexander, said she believes same-sex marriage will eventually be legal across the nation, including in Kentucky.

Others agreed but said it could take some time.

"Everyone should have the same rights as my husband and I," said Samara Baker, 33, of Lexington, but she said she thinks the federal government will have to force Kentucky to allow that.

The Supreme Court ruling may apply to a range of benefits for same-sex married couples who live in Kentucky, but it does not end the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

Jessica Elam, 20, of Lexington, said she would be satisfied if Kentucky would simply recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Elam and her partner, Amanda Curnutt, 24, are engaged and are raising a daughter together, 8-month old Lera.

The couple thought about getting married in Washington, D.C., but haven't because Kentucky still would not recognize the union, Elam said.

Still, "I thought it was fantastic," she said of the Supreme Court ruling, and she said she thinks Kentucky will someday legalize same-sex marriage.

Harrison said there is a perception that Kentucky is conservative and not especially tolerant of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, but he has found that reality does not match that image.

"What I found in practice is this is a very welcoming place," Harrison said.

The Lexington Fairness booth featured posters with the results of polls that found a majority of Kentuckians agree that people should be protected from anti-gay discrimination in employment and housing, for example.

Even with legal victories and policy changes of recent years, people at the festival said more is needed, including a law in Kentucky to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and a law addressing bullying aimed at LGBT students.

Thousands of people attended Saturday's event — the sixth year for the celebration — which included music, a marching band, drag shows and nearly 100 booths for non-profit, commercial, service and church groups.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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