An LGBTQ+ Pride festival in Southern Kentucky, hailed as the first of its kind by local organizers and activists, drew plenty of fanfare on Saturday.
Chill Out and Proud, the inaugural Pride event in Somerset, featured musical performances, a chili picnic, musical performances, booths from local groups, an artist paint-off, and even a roller derby expo. The event, organized by a community group of local businesses and nonprofit organizations, aims to “deliver a family-friendly and all-inclusive community Pride event featuring LGBTQ+ musical, performing, and visual artists for folks of all backgrounds, identities, and orientations in the Lake Cumberland region,” according to its website.
The local coalition behind Chill Out and Proud was encouraged to kickoff the festival after recent setbacks for LGBTQ+ rights in the area. Last year, the city council in Somerset — a town of 12,000 that’s an hour’s drive from the Tennessee border — voted down a proposal that would have banned discrimination in housing and other public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The community festival attracted protesters who stopped by to spread their message, including protesters representatives of the Legion of St. Ambrose, a local white nationalist group, and faith-based groups opposed to LGBTQ+ civil rights.
Despite the attempt to rain hate on their parade, the festival proceeded anyhow.
“This was an effort at unity and community,” said Kat Moses, one of the event’s organizers, in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Ledger. “We really just want to feel welcome in our community and feel like we’re welcomed by our neighbors.”
It’s worth noting that the LGBTQ+ protections and civil rights in Kentucky are still generating some momentum but has see-sawed in the past decade. Discrimination against public employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity was outlawed by an 2008 executive order from Governor Steve Beshear. Earlier this month, the city of Versailles passed an LGBTQ+ inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, joining more than a dozen other Kentucky municipalities that have managed to enact laws protecting their queer and trans residents in housing, employment, or public accomodations.
However, workers across the state are still largely unprotected by local ordinances or other laws. Statewide hate crimes laws cover sexual orientation but not gender identity.
Chill Out and Proud Somerset also prompted the creation of a regional chapter of the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), as the event brought various affirming organizations from throughout Southern Kentucky together. As the organizers met, Moses told the Herald-Ledger that many of those in attendance expressed how isolated they’d felt; before this weekend, they didn’t believe they could be included in or embraced by their local community.
According to the organization’s website, they intend to make Chill Out and Proud Somerset an annual tradition and have invited others to join the effort for another festival in 2020. The LGBTQ+ advocacy group Fairness Kentucky estimates that there are around 20 Pride festivals thought the state.