For the first time, Sedalia and Pettis County will be hosting a public event to celebrate Pride Month next weekend.
According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Pride Month commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City on June 28, 1969. GLAAD states police raids on LGBTQ bars were common but patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back, an event most historians consider the birth of the modern LGBTQ movement. June is now unofficially recognized as Pride Month and many events still occur on the last Sunday in June in honor of the Stonewall anniversary.
Heather Hughes, of Sedalia, has helped create what is being considered the first publicly organized Pride event in Sedalia. She said she was inspired by events hosted in larger Missouri cities.
“I thought, ‘oh that’s so nice. I wish I had that feeling of being connected and part of a community here closer to home,’” she said. “I think when you live in a small town you get used to driving to do things. And it seemed really important to have that community and visibility a little bit closer to home.”
The Pettis County Pride Picnic will include a photo booth, raffle, yard games and a DJ. Hughes said each guest will receive one free raffle ticket and additional tickets are $1, with proceeds going to PROMO, Missouri's statewide organization advocating for LGBTQ equality. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own picnic meal. Local LGBTQ community members and supporters will share their stories with those gathered.
Hughes said the community response has overall been positive so far and that she hopes people see Sedalia is creating a safe, inclusive space for LGBTQ people.
“Members of the LGBT community really like the idea of a space to be visible and get together,” she said. “… There’s lots of queer folks anywhere but I think in a small town, people keep a pretty low profile. I think folks are excited to be meeting other people. I’ve also gotten a really positive response from allies, parents of LGBTQ kids that are really excited about the event too.”
Hughes is bisexual and has only been open about her sexual orientation for the last few years. She said as a young person, being gay or lesbian was something she knew about from TV but not something she considered for herself.
“Even though I knew how I felt, I don’t think it occurred to me that that was something I could actually be and how I could live my life,” she said. “I think that visibility is important. Visibility on television and podcasting and books for young people has been getting a lot better than it was, but there’s still a distance there. You can connect with someone on a chat group and it’s not the same as a living, breathing person in your community saying, ‘hey, this is who I am and I can be that person even here.’”
While progress has been made since Stonewall, the journey toward equality continues. According to a 2018 study from the Human Rights Campaign and the University of Connecticut, 77% of LGBTQ teenagers reported feeling depressed or down over the past week and more than 70 percent reported feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the last week. The survey states only 11% of youth of color believed their racial or ethnic group is regarded positively in the U.S. Only 26 percent said they always feel safe in their school classrooms. And 67% said they’ve heard family members make negative comments about LGBTQ people.
More than 12,000 LGBTQ teenagers ages 13 to 17 from all 50 states were surveyed.
“We’ve clearly got some stuff we need to work on,” Hughes said. “... A lot of people think, ‘oh gay marriage is legal, everything’s fine now.’ But there’s a lot of stuff to still work on, particularly for youth and trans folks. We can do a lot better.”
For the last hour of the picnic, Hughes said there will be a planning meeting for anyone interested in helping create future events.
“We’re going to try to get together folks from the LGBT community and talk about, well if this is the start of something, what is our next step? What does that look like moving forward?” Hughes said.
The picnic will be hosted from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 22 at Liberty Park Shelters 1 and 2. The planning meeting will be from 5 to 6 p.m. For more information, contact Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or search for “Sedalia Pride Picnic” on Facebook.