Drag performer Lizanya poses for a photo

Drag performer Lizanya, center, poses for a photo with Mckenzie Adams, 3, right, and Ronnie Mohn, 4, left, at the 2019 MidMO PrideFest at Rose Music Hall. The festival was canceled in 2020 but will return to Columbia on Saturday.

Mid-Missouri PrideFest kicks off its two-day festival Saturday to celebrate a homecoming for the LGBTQ+ community.

In the summer of 2020, PrideFest was canceled because of COVID-19. This year, the pandemic is the reason behind the festival’s growth. For the first time in its history, the Mid-Missouri PrideFest will be taking place over two days rather than one to make the festival safer for participants.

“Weirdly enough, the pandemic gave us what we’ve been hoping for for years, a two-day event, which is super exciting,” said Janet Davis, co-chair of the Mid-Missouri PrideFest.

The Center Project of Missouri teamed up with local sponsors to host its annual festival Saturday and Sunday at Rose Music Hall. PrideFest is free to the public and encompasses a variety of events, from concerts and parades to drag shows and vaccine clinics.

The growth of PrideFest couldn’t have come at a better time for the LGBTQ+ community. From the cancellation of PrideFest to the closing of the Yin Yang Night Club, Columbia’s primary LGBTQ+ bar, the community lost much of what allowed it to stay connected in 2020.

“There’s been nowhere for anyone in town to have a home,” Davis said. “And I think that even though PrideFest is only one time a year, it’s home.”

Davis helped bring together more than 80 sponsors and 70 vendors to create this year’s event. One of the festival’s largest business sponsors is Lizzi and Rocco’s Natural Pet Market.

“It’s just really, really important to be able to show support and love for that community, for the people that we deeply care about,” said Jessica Schlosser, owner of Lizzi and Rocco’s.

Several churches sponsor the festival despite historical conflicts between religious groups and the LGBTQ+ community.

Columbia United Church of Christ is attempting to improve the relationship between the two groups. The church is entering its third year of involvement with the Mid-Missouri PrideFest, and Pastor Rick Oberle expressed a deep commitment to the same objective as the festival.

During his first year participating, Oberle performed “glitter blessings,” in which he blessed attendees who visited his booth with glitter glue as an expression of offering a spiritual home for those who wanted it.

“I had people who were rushing up to the booth because they had been there last year and they were so looking forward to being accepted,” he said. “To be accepted by God, to be told that God loved them.”

Spanning the weekend, there will be two drag shows, two band lineups and two sets of vendors both days, Davis said.

“We have two completely different stage lineups both days,” Davis said. “It’s the most exciting thing in the world for me to be able to share a completely new event two days in a row.”

Ragtag Cinema will show a series of movies created by or about members of the LGBTQ+ community. Films include “But I’m a Cheerleader,” “The Leather Boys” and “Ema.” Ragtag programmer Ted Rogers hopes audiences will appreciate the long and diverse history of cinema.

“There are films where they had to be very subtle because mainstream audiences and studios wouldn’t handle queer canon films,” Rogers said.

Festival attendees can also get vaccinated against COVID-19 at this year’s event. PrideFest is teaming up with Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services and the Burrell Behavioral Health pharmacy to provide shots to attendees who want them.

“Not only are we trying to be socially distant and be health-conscious, but we’re trying to help stop the spread,” Davis said.

Davis has said she is incredibly thankful for the support of sponsors as well as the support from the community and hopes PrideFest can be an opportunity to bring together the LGBTQ+ community after a period of isolation.

“Truly, our main goal is homecoming,” Davis said. “We want to remind everyone that they’re not alone. We want to remind everyone that every single human being is welcome. Every human being is valid. And we love every one of you.”

  • Assistant city editor, grad student studying investigative reporting and photojournalism. You can reach me at cjmx5d@umsystem.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

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