Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, June 11 newspaper on Page A1.
The streets of uptown Athens were filled with music, marching crowds and plenty of rainbows for the Athens Pride Parade and Rally on Saturday.
The event, now in its second year, featured a number of local organizations, activists and spectators all showing support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Saturday’s event began with a small gathering in front of the Baker University Center led by delfin bautista. The former OU LGBT Center director led numerous chants for equality, then introduced several other speakers including Chris Nevil, the interim assistant executive director of the Southeastern Ohio Rainbow Alliance.
The parade participants then walked down Court Street, then to East Washington and South College streets, ending their route at Howard Park. The parade featured LGBT groups such as PRISM And the Athens High School Queer Straight Alliance, along with other community and church groups from the area.
The parade’s end point led to a rally at Howard Park, where anyone in attendance could make their voice heard about LGBTQ+ issues. Those who spoke included representatives from OhioHealth, United Campus Ministries and Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, as well as local residents, including transgender activist Megan Smith. There was also a moment of silence for LGBTQ+ victims of suicide and violence from the past year.
Mayor Steve Patterson declared June 2019 as Athens Pride Month. He additionally praised how the Athens community has continued to uphold LGBTQ+ rights, such as support of local groups like the after-school youth group PRISM.
Micah McCarey, interim director of the Ohio University LGBT Center, led those gathered in a “friendship meditation.” McCarey encouraged everyone in attendance to take time to think about and then thank their past, present and future friends.
“Through (friendships) we really learn to listen and express our unique needs,” McCarey said. “Friendships between LGBTQ+ individuals and our allies are essential. Through them, we build bridges and connections that we need to sustain us. ”
Shakti Rambarran, an Ohio University graduate student who attended Athens Pride to represent the Greater Planned Parenthood of Ohio, described having personal attachment to Pride’s message. Rambarran was raised in Jamaica, a place TIME magazine called the most homophobic country in the world in 2006. Now, Rambarran chooses to study LGBTQ+ issues, as well as showing support at events like Pride.
“Seeing everything I saw back home made me want to study these issues in college and then in my PhD program” Rambarran said. “I was raised to believe the more privilege you have, the more responsibility you have.”
While Athens Pride was a chance for local activists and groups to come together, the event also attracted some organizations outside of Athens. One of these organizations was the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) chapter of Columbus. GLSEN advocates for safer and more inclusive schools. The group encourages policies that provide protection against bullying and provides support to student-led clubs such as Gay Straight Alliances and Queer Straight Alliances.
Pam Antos, co-chair and professional development coordinator for GLSEN Columbus, is involved in many Pride events throughout the state — particularly for areas that do not have GLSEN chapters, such as Athens. Antos said she was especially moved by attendees and the message she saw at Athens Pride.
“I’m in awe of the energy and the spirit,” Antos said. “I’m really touched and moved to see queer people in Southeastern Ohio come together for change. People generalize (about Southeastern Ohio), but queer people live everywhere and this is a reminder of that. People everywhere just want to be loved and live their truth.”