COLUMBIA — A lavender parasol shaded Jason Sclater from the August heat as she discussed her all-black outfit with other people at the Mid-Missouri PrideFest. They were complimenting Sclater’s studded skirt that a roommate had crafted from a pair of baggy pants.
Sclater, who was born a boy, has been dressing as a girl since the first grade. She discovered her sexuality as a transgender individual during this time. She said it was derived from family issues: Her mother put her up for adoption at the age of 7.
Although Sclater came to Columbia to be treated at Truman Veterans' Hospital after her eight-year stint in the military, she stayed for the community.
“I found out everything that is special about this place,” she said.
The Mid-Missouri PrideFest took place Sunday. The booths and activities lined Fourth and Cherry streets. The festival celebrates not just the LGBTQ community, but its place in Columbia as well.
Kari Utterback, 29, secretary of the Board of the Mid-Missouri PrideFest, was pleased with the turnout, but she said the heat kept a lot of people from coming. Utterback said Columbia’s central location makes the event accessible to the more outlying areas of the state.
“We are the only event like this in mid-Missouri,” she said.
PrideFest is funded by community sponsorships. Individuals and businesses helped organizers raise nearly $10,000 for PrideFest this year. Utterback said that this shows how accepting the Columbia community is of the LGBTQ community.
“There is a hometown feel, but everyone is welcome to come be who they are," Utterback said.
Rachel Kirchhofer, 17, president of Rock Bridge High School’s Gay Straight Alliance, was one of those who came to express herself. She wore two ponytails beneath a white straw hat as she sold colorful buttons displaying “Legalize LOVE,” “Free Hugs,” “GSA” and rainbow signs at her booth.
Rachel struggled throughout middle school because of the immaturity of her peers: She was fighting the pressure to be accepted and the drive to recognize her true self as a lesbian. Although the verbal bullying held her back for a while, it was PRISM, a high school club run by The Center Project welcoming LGBT teenagers from 13- to 18-year-olds, that gave her strength.
Rachel's memory of the first gathering of PRISM she attended, held in December 2013, was still vivid on Sunday. It happened to be Drag Day, and Rachel found herself surrounded by a river of adults. She felt all alone and weird, but those feelings passed.
“I am a very lipstick lesbian, and I really love getting girly clothes and big (hair) waves,” she said. “I am not into talking about (sexual orientation), especially with adults, but ever since that (first meeting), I was kind of OK with that.”
Rachel's father, Gregory Kirchhofer, 45, showed support for Rachel’s coming out at PrideFest.
“I just want her to be happy,” he said.
It was Rachel's second time having a booth at PrideFest. Rachel said her booth provided the best opportunity for those who are resource hunting, especially for those who don't know about PRISM and GSA programs in their high schools.
For her though, PrideFest feels like home.
“I was born right in PrideFest,” she said.
Rachel and her best friend, Zachary Jimenez, 18, echoed the emphasis on unity that the Mid-Missouri PrideFest represented.
“People are so different in so many ways,” Rachel said. “Everyone is not just one color. The whole spectrum should be included.”
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