At this time last year, Rowan County was making national news because of its county clerk’s response to the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, but on Saturday the area was celebrating with not one, but two Pride festivals.
“We were tired of getting pushed, and we finally pushed back,” said Julie Sloan, who served on the organizing committee for the Morehead Pride Festival.
At least 500 people attended the daytime festival, along with about 50 vendors, more than a dozen performers and several speakers who hailed from all over the country, said David Moore, its executive director.
The Rowan County Pride Festival in the evening offered a picnic, music, vendors and a forum on life for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in rural areas.
Attendees said the two festivals were a great way for people who often feel like they are on the margins of society to feel welcomed and loved.
“There’s a lot of straight people here today,” Sloan said. “People didn’t realize there was this much support in the community.”
Laura Rucker of Morehead said that is precisely why she wanted to attend.
“We have a strong LGBT community here, despite its reputation,” she said.
She said the performers were the most fun part of the day, but supporting friends and family was at the heart of the event.
“It’s been nice to walk around here with people that we know — at a Pride event in Morehead,” she said.
Serena Van Daren, Miss Lexington Pride 2016, said that performing seven numbers on a sweltering summer day was completely worth it. After all, it was the first time Morehead had ever had such a celebration.
And, Van Daren said, drag queens play an important role “as the face of the scene.” They make people feel comfortable, especially in the wake of this summer’s shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.: “‘Serena is out performing. She feels safe here, so we should too.’”
Growing up in Pikeville, “I never thought I would see something like this,” said Anna Blanton. “It’s wonderful. I think it’s important to feel like you’re supported by the community.”
Blanton said she came out in the 1980s and “felt like I needed to leave Pikeville immediately.”
Blanton now lives in Lexington with her wife, Bernadette Barton, a professor of sociology and gender studies at Morehead State University and the author of Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays.
Barton was among the people scheduled to lead a forum at the Rowan County Pride Festival on life in rural Kentucky for people in the LGBTQ communities.
She said “people are really hungry to talk about” the topic of sexuality and religion, particularly conservative Christianity.
There was talk in advance that two busloads of protesters planned to be at the Morehead Pride Festival, but instead just one person showed up in protest, Moore said.
“I believe everybody should have equal rights,” said Erica Wheeler, who came from Ashland to attend the event and was among a group of Pride attendees who formed a human wall and used a rainbow flag to block the protester’s sign. “It was wrong for him to come here and try to destroy a good day for us.”