Delaware's Ross Park: Inaugural Unity Pride Festival slated June 19

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek

Delaware's inaugural Unity Pride Festival will be held at 3 p.m. June 19 at Ross Park on Ross Street. 

The event will be staged by Delaware Ohio Pride, teaming with the Unity Community Center, next door to the park.

"Delaware Ohio Pride is an organization dedicated to creating a safe, diverse and inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ and allied members of Delaware County," said Lee Webb, a co-chair of the group. "We organize programs and events that provide resources and education about LGBTQ+ topics. We partner with and promote local businesses and organizations that support the LGBTQ+ community. With education and knowledge comes understanding and compassion.

Lee Webb

“Even from our events in the past, we've opened people's eyes and changed things. People are like, 'I didn't know it was like that' or 'I didn't know it was like this.' I think we're striving for that change, and we just want the Delaware community to be a part of it," Webb said.

"The reason that Unity Community Center wanted to host the first Pride Festival was because it doesn't matter what socioeconomic status you are, what ethical background you have,” said Karriejoi Coit, Unity board member and past director. “Being in that community has to be recognized and celebrated. They have rights just like everybody else. Even during a time of post George Floyd, where I as an African American have a whole lot to worry about, I'm still engaging what the Pride community has to worry about." 

Also on June 19, Unity will hold a Juneteenth event at Blue Limestone Park, 6 King Ave., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Webb said the festival is open to all ages from 3 to 7 p.m. and will include free entertainment, vendors, food trucks, storytime for children and drag bingo.

The second part of the festival, from 7:30 to 10 p.m., is open to those ages 18 and older, and will include a drag show with a $5 cover charge and proceeds going to the Unity Community Center, Webb said.

Delaware Ohio Pride also has arranged with the city of Delaware to fly pride flags on city poles downtown June 15-28. 

Delaware city community-affairs coordinator Lee Yoakum said the city administers an event flag and banner program to encourage and support cultural and community events. Local nonprofit organizations pay for the banners and/or flags, he said.

The LGBTQ+ community is sizeable, Webb said.

"The LGBTQ+ umbrella encompasses a lot of different identities, so it's probably a lot more than people think,” he said. “There’s also the question if they're out or not, or are they open about how they identify. Everyone's life experiences are different, and when, where, and how they come out is up to that individual." 

When he was an Ohio State University student taking a gender sex and power class, Webb said, students learned about a national survey showing about one in six people identified under the LGBTQ+ umbrella in some way.

Delaware Ohio Pride is a nonprofit organized in 2019 with an office in the COhatch building at 18 E. William St., Webb said. Some other central Ohio communities have similar organizations, he said.

"We have an education department that focuses on education and outreach. Currently, they are developing classes for businesses and other organizations about the LGBTQ+ community. We have a whole entire class focusing on transgender inclusivity in the workplace. That's a class that we'll be offering here soon," Webb said, adding that gender and sexuality 101 is another topic in development. "All these classes are available to any business that wants us to come in.

“Of course, we also do events. One of our more popular events in Delaware, back before COVID, we did five drag shows. Four were at the previous location of Clancey’s Pub and one at the Food Truck Depot. Those drag shows were a big fundraiser for our organization” and helped fund the group's costs of becoming a nonprofit, he said.

"We pulled a lot of performers from the Columbus area, Cincinnati and Cleveland to come to a small town of Delaware and kind of give the Delaware community a taste of what the drag performance scene is in those cities," Webb said.

Delaware Ohio Pride is interested, he said, in seeing the city adopt an ordinance similar to Westerville ordinance 2019-18, which prevents unlawful discrimination within the city regarding race, color, religion, national origin, familial status, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The ordinance covers housing, public accommodations and private employers with four or more workers other than family members. 

"It's still legal to be fired for being LGBTQ+ in Delaware for your job. Which is wrong. That is something we'll be looking at here soon, going into the more legal aspects of trying to better the LGBTQ+ community in Delaware," Webb said.

Delaware Ohio Pride also does "a lot of communication with the GSAs, the Gender and Sexuality Alliances (earlier called Gay Straight Alliances) within the schools," Webb said.

"Currently, we're in communication with Delaware, Buckeye Valley and the Olentangy schools,” he said. “We've been working with their GSAs, and for the past two years, we've been giving their graduating seniors rainbow tassels so that way they can graduate and show their pride."

Delaware Ohio Pride also has supported GSAs marking the GLSEN (formerly the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) annual Day of Silence to spread awareness about the effects of the bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ students, he said. 

Webb said orientation is genetic and many know their orientation while still in school.

"This a part of them and who they are. It's not influenced by any of what homophobic people think about."

GLSEN is a national program that has filed legal challenges against schools that oppose GSAs, he said, adding GSAs are protected under federal Title IX civil rights law.

 No known organized opposition to the festival could be identified.

For more information, go to delawareohiopride.org.

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