The Missouri United Methodist Church was one of many Columbia organizations promoting diversity and tolerance at the fifth annual Mid-Missouri PrideFest on Saturday. The theme of this year’s festival was “United for Diversity,” a sentiment shared by Mary Ann Shaw, co-founder and chairwoman of Open Door Ministry, a Missouri United Methodist Church group started by parents and friends of gays and lesbians.
Speaking about PrideFest, held this year at Stephens Lake Park, Shaw said it is an important event for straight people to attend to understand the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.
“We have to be advocates for our children,” said Shaw, who initially had a hard time accepting that her son was gay. “We have to reduce the discrimination. They are citizens just like everyone else.”
The theme of the fifth annual PrideFest was “United for Diversity.” Linda Hayes, board member of the Mid-Missouri LGBT Coalition, said the event was a chance to break down barriers between people and clear up stereotypes associated with the LGBT community.
“The main goal of PrideFest is to provide an opportunity for the entire community to celebrate the fact that we’re all diverse,” Hayes said. “People that don’t know anything about people in the LGBT community besides what they see on TV can come and see they are people just like everyone else.”
The festival featured a variety of live music performances and vendors selling goods such as jewelry and homemade dog and cat treats. Workers at the “Pride Cafe” served free hamburgers, hot dogs, vegan selections and other snacks.
The festival also provided a venue for participants to discuss and rally support for environmental issues and to work to end the war in Iraq, as well as LGBT-specific issues, such as passing state legislation to prevent employers from firing people based on their sexual orientation.
“It’s comforting to be able to celebrate in a place you feel safe,” said Michael Garver, a member of the LGBT grass-roots organization, PROMO. “It shows you that you aren’t alone, and it’s not just your issue. It gives me hope.”
Following the festival, the second annual Atomic Dance Party: Community Fusion kept the PrideFest celebration going at The Blue Note. A DJ provided music for the partygoers, and several area businesses donated door and raffle prizes for the event. The party raised money for the Center Project, an organization working to create a community resource center for the LGBT community in Boone County and seven surrounding counties. Carol Snively, board member of the Center Project, said last year’s dance party was one of many fundraisers for the center and raised approximately $4,000 of the $85,000 needed to open the center in June 2008.
“The dance party is about celebrating pride,” Snively said.
Gay pride events take place in cities all over the world in the month of June to commemorate the Stonewall riots that began June 27, 1969, in New York City. The riots came in response to police raids of gay bars and sparked the beginning of the current gay rights movement.
Snively and others said they have never encountered any protests at the PrideFest events.
“In many ways Columbia is an oasis,” Snively said. “The climate in the state of Missouri as a whole is not very good for gay and lesbian families. There is a lot of work still to be done, but Columbia is more welcoming.”