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Monday, September 25, 2017

LGBTQ support groups and organizations celebrate pride in Mid-Missouri

The Mid-Missouri PrideFest featured information booths and live performances from both local and national groups.

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Tiger Rider preforms on the main stage at the Mid-Missouri Pride Festival.

Kate Seaman/Staff Photographer

Aug. 30, 2017

In celebration of the LGBTQ commuity’s increasing visiblity in Mid-Missouri, LGBTQ organizations Mid-Missouri Pride and The Center Project came together to host their 14th annual PrideFest on Saturday at Rose Music Hall.

The festival lasted from 1-10 p.m. and featured an array of performances and guest speakers, from live musical groups to an interfaith sermon from local LGBTQ-allied clergy and even a pole dance routine from Muse Pole Fitness dancers. The festival closed with the Downtown Hometown Drag Show, headlined by Roxxxy Andrews and showcasing 15 other local entertainers.

In addition, various sponsors and organizations from around Mid-Missouri set up booths outside the music hall for festivalgoers to visit, including Planned Parenthood, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri offered petitions, newsletter sign-ups and pamphlets containing additional resources from their respective organizations.

Many organizations also offered volunteer opportunities for anyone who stopped by their booths. Sarah Mitchell, a Center Project board member, believes it’s vital for people to be aware of all the different ways to get involved within the organization, whether it be through fundraisers or social events.

“We have a lot of resources for people within the community,” Mitchell said. “It’s important to have a safe space where people can actually come and find other people that are like minded and supportive of all people.”

Center Project’s youth group Prism specializes in providing networks for LGBTQ community members to connect.

“LGBTQ teens struggle with social isolation if they don’t know other queer teens and especially if they don’t have family acceptance,” Prism member Melina Constantine said. “We want to advertise a social network for those teens who can’t find one in school or their home.”

Although the annual PrideFest started in 2003, Mid-Missouri Pride didn’t officially join forces with The Center Project until earlier this year. According to Mid-Missouri Pride’s official website, the goal of the merger was to create a greater impact on the community at large.

In an effort to reach out to a larger scope of LGBTQ people within the greater Missouri area, PrideFest hosted a wider variety of organizations. Strategic communication manager of MU’s Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Ryan Gavin sees this year’s festival moving closer to intersectionality.

“It hasn’t always been like that,” Gavin said. “I’ve definitely seen a lot more support this year than I have in years before. I think all minority communities should work to find that place that’s supportive of all identities.”

Organizations not traditionally affiliated with the LGBTQ community were also working toward creating an atmosphere of support and inclusion for those identities. Beth Hendren, board member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, believes that aligning the group with the LGBTQ community will greatly benefit both parties.

“It’s my goal to get the LGBTQ community to be a part of us,” Hendren said. “I think they are two groups that go by without anyone really helping. I want them to know that we are here for them no matter what.”

Hendren, who has been with the AFSP for two years, has been involved in many outreach events including the Out of the Darkness Community Walk, a fundraiser meant to raise awareness and prevention of suicide and mental health issues. Knowing that suicide rates are higher among members of the LGBTQ community, Hendren sees this festival and the walk as perfect opportunities to make the organization’s safe space known.

“Regardless if it’s LGBTQ or mental health, I think it’s important for everyone to have something they can go to and not feel judged,” Hendren said.

Establishing visibility was a goal many sponsors and organizations had set out to achieve at the festival. In fact, some sponsors recognize that having a festival that celebrates acceptance and individuality was enough proof of a supportive presence within Mid-Missouri.

“Having the festival is a celebration of all types of people,” Mitchell said. “When you come here, you see the overwhelming support and love for people of the LGBTQ community and just everybody else too.”

Edited by Sarah Hallam | shallam@themaneater.com

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