Last August, Morehead was the center of a media circus and an international flashpoint for the cause of single-sex marriage.
This year, two Pride festivals are planned for Saturday by the LGBT organizers in the mountain town. The Morehead Pride Festival will be from noon to 5 p.m., and the Rowan County Pride Festival will be 5 to 10 p.m.
The town of about 7,000 people received international attention when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis refused to issue a same-sex marriage license after a U.S. Supreme Court decision made the marriages legal. A year later, Pride festival organizers say they hope the community will celebrate with them.
David Moore and his husband, David Ermold, were among the couples denied a marriage license by Davis last year. They married in October. Moore is helping to organize the daytime celebration.
He said he hopes the high-profile, high-energy event will “be comforting for people who feel invisible.” Morehead remains a place where “people may be reluctant to say they have a partner or tell their co-workers that they are gay,” he said, and the threat of violence against homosexuals is real in many parts of Eastern Kentucky.
Mary Hargis, who helped organize the Rowan County Pride celebration, was born in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. It’s where she feels at home; it’s where her people are from, she said.
She said she hopes the pride events will help the LGBT community create its own moment in the spotlight and emphasize its connection to mountain culture and its neighbors.
“A lot of people stay in rural places because they want to stay where their families are,” Hargis said, and the evening event will include a forum on rural LGBT life along with music, a free picnic and children’s activities. There also will be belly dancers and vendors. The daytime Morehead Pride Festival will include speakers, poetry and drag performances.
Chris Hartman, director of Fairness Campaign, is scheduled to speak at both events. Traditionally, Pride festivals have been limited to Kentucky’s bigger cities like Lexington and Louisville, but that’s “changing rapidly,” Hartman said.
Across the state, more and more small communities are showing their pride. Madisonville in Western Kentucky had its first Pride event Aug. 20. A group in Georgetown is planning an event for October, Hartman said.
And Census data shows rural pockets across the state where LGBT people have clustered in smaller communities, he said.
A study by the Williams Institute at the University of Southern California showed that 35 percent of LGBT citizens in America live in Southern states. There are an estimated 132,000 LGBT people in Kentucky, according to the Institute. Only 23 percent of those are covered under workplace protections against discrimination.
Ross Murray, program director for the South for GLAAD, said research has shown that people in the South tend to be less accepting of LGBT folks.
“In states where you hear a lot of hostile rhetoric,” he said, participating in a Pride event “really becomes an act of bravery.”
But that is changing, he said. “People should not have to leave their home just to be who they are.”
Moore and Hargis are proud of their home. And they’re proud of how the community has came together. A lot of people in support of LGBT rights, especially those associated with Morehead State University, were embarrassed by the image that Davis projected out to the world.
“The whole affair was so mind blowing,” said Hargis.
Both Moore and Hargis are sympathetic to Davis. Hargis said Davis was “pretty much vilified.”
That wasn’t why the protests began in Morehead.
“She was denying equal rights for everybody under the law, we wanted to keep the focus on the fact that the law was broken,” Hargis said.
The remaining lawsuits against Davis were dropped last week.
And in spite of differing beliefs, both sides have to figure out a way to get along in a small town. When Rowan County Pride organized, Davis was the one in the County Clerk’s office to help with the paperwork.