‘A beautiful thing’: First Winchester Pride and Inclusion Fest held

Published 11:33 am Monday, October 23, 2023

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Saturday was a day to learn, a day to have fun and a day for history to be made in Winchester.

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“It’s the first-ever Pride and Inclusion Festival. It shows Winchester truly is for everyone,” said Tiffani Hays, one of the festival organizers.

The festival occurred on Depot Street and was organized by ProudTown, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping LGBT youth.

Hays’ co-organizer and co-founder at Proudtown, Andi Stephenson, offered her thoughts on the day’s events.

“I think it has brought not only resources but visibility to the community,” Stephenson said.

Pride month and its accompanying celebrations usually take place in June and hold a special place meaning for the LGBTQ community.

One Winchester man wants to extend the feeling that Pride brings all year round.

“So Pride festivals are a beautiful thing and it is the one time of the year that they are just free to just be, and that is beautiful in this day and age,” Ervin said. “It is a feeling of unity. You should be able to have that feeling that you have at Pride festival year round: the loving your brothers and sisters, and the gentle theys and thems.”

Ervin, who is openly transgender, was delighted at the turnout despite some initial trepidation.

“I had some anxiety due to some personal experience of not always feeling safe because it does happen, but to see this town come together, and the vibe – there is a static in the air of love – and immediately it makes you feel,” he said. “That is what so many of us, and when I say us, that extends to humans whether they are CIS or not, but especially for my trans brothers like myself. We just want safety; we don’t want specialty. We don’t want bells and whistles; we want respect.”

Several community and regional organizations were on hand to remind festival attendees that they were not alone – and more.

Free health screenings and literature were available – as was a friendly ear, such as those at the Kentucky Embraces You table.

“They are a nonprofit offshoot of Free Mom Hugs. The Kentucky chapter split, I believe, this past summer because they wanted to lobby and do more with advocating,” explained Kit Carter, who helped operate the nonprofit’s table. “Mostly, they are visible at Prides. They offer hugs and resources. As they continue to grow and continue to get their feet under them, they plan on advocating more and being present on Capitol Hill in Frankfort, putting themselves out there and saying it is not just the queer kids but the parents and the random strangers who are advocating.”

Dora Hall and Michell Sames of the National Youth Advocate Program (NYAP) were also in attendance and provided information about its services, which include mental health advocacy.

“We have been in Winchester for six years…We do a lot of mental health services for LGBTQ youth in this town. We tend to be the go-to agency for mental health referrals in this town. We are a safe place to be able to treat these kids,” Sames said.

NYAP also assists in the foster care process, and, presently, it is tough to find foster homes for LGBTQ youth.

Hall explained why that is.

“I think it is because foster parents are not sure of the best practice or they are worried they might not know what to do with the youth because of the issues that come with someone who is transgender or identify as queer or gay. They are worried about how to give them the care they need,” she said.

Sames said that the agency sees numerous trans and gay children pop up in the system each week due to therapeutic needs or mistreatment at a former home.

Many end up in foster care for the same reason.

“Most of them are in there because they have been kicked out of their home,” Sames said.

According to Sames and Hall, the best way to lend a helping hand is to sign up to become a foster parent with an agency that supports LGBTQ youth.

NYAP’s office is located at 7 Waveland Ave. and can contacted via phone at 859) 385-4669.

Winchester’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church was also on hand at the festival, and the church’s priest, Father Jim Trimble, explained why.

“We are an affirming church, which means we affirm who you are. We recognize and see you are and will lift you up, and you won’t be excluded from any leadership or roles in the church,” Trimble said.

Trimble also explained why that is so important.

“A big thing is that many people have been traumatized and hurt by their faith upbringing in the past. Meaning that because of their sexuality or orientation…that the church they have grown up in has shunned them. And I think it is important for a community of faith, like Emmanuel Episcopal Church, to say that you are made in the image of God and are welcomed, accepted and are a full person in the eyes of God in this faith community,” he said.

And with the turnout and infectious spirit of the festival, Hays and Stephenson are already planning next year’s festivities.

“I think next year we will go bigger,” Stephenson said.

Festival attendees visit the Kentucky Embraces You table at Saturday’s Winchester Pride and Inclusion Fest. (Photo by Warren Taylor)