Love wins was the rallying cry at last year’s Lexington Pride Festival, and this year it was that love endures.
Saturday’s crowd, which had grown restless as burly, bearded members of the Kentucky Bourbon Bears plugged an upcoming convention, hushed as pastor Marsha Moors-Charles began to pray. From the main stage in a courthouse plaza filled with rainbows, the leader of Bluegrass United Church of Christ talked about how so many died simply because they had gone out at night to dance. So many, she said, gone because of hatred. But though mourned, “each are now safely in God’s arms,” she said, then asked the crowd to pray for the family and friends still fresh in grief.
Then the collective silence was broken.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven …, on for a full minute, with no other sound but the breeze, the crowd counted. When the count reached thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three, Moors-Charles’ voice seemed to falter and catch with emotion but the slow count went on like a dirge until 49.
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Forty-nine is the number of people killed at the Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, on June 12.
Aaron Keathley wore rainbow socks and a matching T-shirt and bandana and leaned against friends as the count went on.
“It was a beautiful tribute,” said Keathley of Floyd County. “It was tough to get through,” he said. So many people killed.
That arc of the tribute, the highs and lows, reflected the year experienced by LGBT folks in Kentucky.
Last year, the day before the Lexington Pride Festival, the Supreme Court ruled in support of a marriage equality case that included a Kentucky couple. The mood on the courthouse square, always rainbow-rrific for this celebration, seemed to have an extra dose of happy in 2015.
“It was a mass celebration last June” all over the country, said Chris Hartman, of the Fairness Campaign.
And then Kim Davis, a clerk from Rowan County, became a media sensation by declaring that her faith in God wouldn’t let her sign same-sex marriage licenses. The most famous Kentuckians in the world, Hartman said, are now “Muhammad Ali, Colonel Sanders and Kim Davis.”
Earlier this year, the Kentucky legislature debated a bill allowing some businesses to refuse to serve gay customers citing religious beliefs, a bill critics called a “license to discriminate.”
Then came the transgender bathroom debate in North Carolina which began making national headlines in May.
Then June 12.
The shift from jubilation to tragedy has been difficult.
“It is a constant reminder in the LGBT community that just because we make historic advancements doesn’t mean that we don’t have historic setbacks,” Hartman said.
Kat Wilkie, Pride Fest Chair, said people forget the family-friendly pride festivals of today evolved from a violent clash at Stonewall in New York, which was just named the first LGBT national monument.
“This is a community that is definitely used to fighting,” she said. “That is the best word I can use.”
“The tenor has definitely turned with the Orlando massacre,” she said. “People are feeling very vulnerable.”
But the crowds came out on Saturday, maybe not in the same numbers as in years before, but Wilkie said the extreme heat with temperatures in the 90s might have also been a factor.
Georgianna Brock said she was “definitely more aware” of her surroundings this year, but she was having a great time.
“Everyone seems to be in high spirits,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot more rainbow flags and supportive apparel.”
Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard watched the festival leaning against a rail in the shade of the courthouse entrance. Police increased security and encouraged people to report any kind of suspicious activity. Barnard declared the party “an uneventful event” except for a few people being treated for problems related to the heat.
Jim Clough of Georgetown and his best friend, Tony Ruiz, both wore shirts with a rainbow of hearts above the slogan: The Pulse of Orlando is the Heartbeat of America. Ruiz came up with the tag line and ordered the shirts online. Clough said the friends always come to the festival and never considered staying home. “That’s what people want is for people to be scared and stay at home,” he said. “That’s not going to happen. This is 2016.”
Lexington Councilwoman Susan Lamb stood in for Mayor Jim Gray in reading a proclamation about Pride Day in Lexington and told the crowd, “We can’t let the actions of a few drown out the rights of the many.”
Hartman said the level of acceptance of gay people in the country has changed over the last few decades as more people come out and more people personally know a member of the LGBT community as a friend or relative. He doesn’t see that changing. There is a pattern: Victory, setback, victory, progress.
And for Keathley and his friend Brad Muncy, there was also a plan: Pray, party, dance.