Musical performances and a drag show on the adult stage, a dance party and amateur drag show on the teen pride stage and a kid’s zone brought fun for all ages at Metro East Pride Fest in Belleville, Illinois.
D.L. Salisbury, Pride Fest chairperson, said they didn’t have Metro East Pride last summer due to COVID-19, but decided to have it in October rather than waiting a year until next June.
“The desire for folks to be out and about and to show their pride is pretty great and the demand is pretty great, so we went ahead and went with October rather than our normal June,” Salisbury said.
Salisbury said Pride is more than just a party and community outreach is also an important part.
“We give back to the community every year through scholarships we give out to high school seniors every year, scholarships for college, and we raise funds for that through drag brunches and all different kinds of events. We have sponsors, locally owned businesses that sponsor those and help us,” Salisbury said. “We gave out Chromebooks to [Illinois Department of Children and Family Services] children’s homes that have a halfway house for them to be at so they’re able to look for jobs.”
Alex Dougherty from Liberty, Missouri, said Pride is important because it provides a place for the LGBTQ+ community to get together and be included and validated.
“I haven’t been to a Pride in a long time and I missed the community and inclusivity of it, and I haven’t gotten to go out in a long time, so I thought it’d be really fun,” Dougherty said.
Mal Hudson from St. Louis said Pride is a place to be free.
“You don’t have to worry about boundaries,” Hudson said. “You don’t have to worry about being judged because there’s a street full of people that are just like you.”
Gary Goldberg from O’Fallon, Illinois, said he attended Pride because it’s important to him to support the vendors and the festival. He said he was very involved with Pride St. Louis, so he wanted to give the festival patronage and publicity by posting on Facebook.
“I’m happy to see as many people here. I was worried the rain was going to be a deterrent, but that shows good Pride love,” Goldberg said.
A’kok Wallace from Fairview Heights, Illinois said Pride makes people feel safe and supported.
“It’s just a really fun event where a lot of people are here who are like me and so I get to come out and see a bunch of other people,” Wallace said. “It’s also Pride, I’m gay, so what else do you expect?”
David Shanks, a representative of five United Churches of Christ that are publicly committed to being open and affirming churches, said his church has been attending Pride for the last 10 years.
“I think the important thing is … that people are assured there is agreement within this congregation that, ‘We’re going to be welcomed, we’ll be safe, that we’ll be a part of this church,’ not just, ‘We’ll tolerate you,’” Shanks said. “We’re not about toleration. We’re about love and incorporating people.”
Jen Mauk, a chapter leader of TransParent, said their organization came to Pride to be available to parents of transgender or gender expansive children who may be struggling.
“Our main purpose is to help parents understand what their transgender kids or gender expansive children are facing or going through … because if you can support children, then they have better outcomes,” Mauk said.
Sidney Spires from Belleville, Illinois, said her family has been coming to Pride every year since her little sister came out to them to show their support.
“I’m only 23, but I went to school where not so many people were comfortable coming out, and I feel like this has just made our town so much more open to being who they are and feeling more loved and supported,” Spires said. “Last year we were here we did the free mom hugs, and so many people were just crying, like, ‘Thank you so much for supporting.’”
To learn more about Metro East Pride’s history and community outreach, as well as resources for members of the LGBTQ+ community, visit metroeastpride.org.