edited.PrideFlag_RebeccaKanaskie3By Abby Wargo

Editor-in-Chief

Chestertown is set to help host the Eastern Shore’s first-ever LGBTQ Pride celebration in May.

The event was approved in a  3-2 vote by the Chestertown Town Council at the Tuesday, Feb. 19 meeting. Council members Marty Stetson and Ellsworth Tolliver dissented the decision. Mid-shore Pride will be held on May 4 with events taking place at a variety of locations throughout the region, including in Chestertown and at Washington College. It will be organized by the Chestertown chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), a national organization dedicated to LGBTQ activism. Claire Hansen, the president of Chestertown PFLAG, was surprised by the two councilmen’s opposition to an event that is planned to be family-friendly.

“The discourse that occurred was unexpected, largely because it was indicative of bias that goes far beyond what their roles as council members are. They should not be inserting their own personal biases and their own perspectives of discrimination on any sort of permit or case in town,” Hansen said.

The President of Encouraging Respect of Sexuality (EROS) Casey Lockard, junior, agreed that Chestertown is generally very open to the LGBTQ community.

“In the past I’ve never experienced it being anything but accepting, and talking with other members of the community, I know they felt the same. I know Chestertown is a small town, so I’m not necessarily surprised, but I guess I didn’t expect it,” Lockard said.Chestertown Mayor Chris  Cerino was among the majority who voted to approve the event.

“While the discussion regarding the permit for our forthcoming Pride event was obviously controversial, at the end of the day the Council endorsed it and we look forward to having a great festival that celebrates both the diversity of Chestertown and the incredible contributions made by our LGBTQ community,” Cerino said.

Stetson and Tolliver’s reasoning behind their dissent was largely made up of “stereotypical homophobic statements,” according to Lockard.

Stetson told The Elm in a Feb. 27 email, “I have friends and relatives that are gay and they have always been wel- comed in my home. I just feel strongly that your sexual preference is a personal part of your life and not something that should be exhibited. I also believe they do themselves a disservice by showcasing their lifestyle and highlighting themselves, in essence saying look at me I am different. I feel they should just fit into society and if they feel the need to disclose their sexual preference to do so on a personal basis.”

Stetson also said that the permit’s approval could open up opportunities for hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, who would “certainly cite this permit” if they were barred from organizing.

Despite these concerns, the community largely responded positively to the approval of a Pride event and negatively to the two councilmen’s sentiments.

In a Chestertown Spy poll posted on Feb. 23, 90 percent of voters indicated that they approved of Mid-Shore Pride, and 70 percent intimated  that the dissenting councilmen were “bigoted.” Over 930 people responded to the poll within the first 24 hours of its posting.

In a Feb. 28 editorial in The Kent County News, Dr. Erin Anderson, associate professor and chair of sociology at WC, wrote, “This isn’t merely a celebration of a sexual orientation. It should be a celebration of the progress we have made as a society in challenging structures of discrimination and inequality. And it should be an opportunity to remind ourselves there is still work to be done if we are to achieve ‘justice for all.’”

President Kurt Landgraf said he “couldn’t believe” the dissenting councilmen’s decisions.

“I was disgusted to see that vote at the city council. I feel good about the fact that the permit was in fact provided, but it absolutely nauseated me to think that two of the councilmen tried to stop that event from occurring. Those are pretty strong words and I mean every one of them,” Landgraf said. “The best way to deal with this kind of intolerance and ignorance is for on May 4 to have a huge turnout at that event in support of freedom, in support of integrity, in sup- port of what’s right.”

For Hansen, the discrimination that LGBTQ individuals living in the area face on a regular basis is enough of a reason for the event.

“The remarks that the two councilmen made, I think, really articulate the reason why we need a Pride event in Kent County. There are so many students who are members of the GSAs in town and they’re not out to their parents, they’re not out to their families,” Hansen said. “So many students struggle because they feel like it is not safe and it is not okay. By  having a  Pride event, it allows students, children, adults, you know, anyone to see that it’s okay to be who you are.”

Lockard said she is looking forward to Mid-Shore Pride, and that if this event had happened while she was still questioning whether to come out, being around people who are out and proud would have been helpful.

“It’s so important to be around people where you can be yourself with people who understand your experiences. And the LGBTQ community is so diverse that there’s this great combination of like. Everybody has a very similar experience, but everybody comes from vastly different backgrounds. And that’s so refreshing and it’s not something that’s usually addressed in everyday life,” Lockard said.

The event itself will include a range of activities in Chestertown, Easton, and Cambridge. Hansen said that PFLAG is working with Lockbriar Farms to develop a special ice cream flavor for the event. All of the local high school’s gay-straight alliances (GSAs) will be invited, as well as EROS.

There will be a comedy night on Fri- day, May 3 in Easton as well as music in Chestertown’s Fountain Park for First Friday. PFLAG will also bring Pride to the Intercultural Festival in Cambridge Saturday morning, May 4. Festivities will be back in Chestertown Saturday afternoon for a series of performances in the park followed by a drag show at WC, organized by Kent County native Marty Cummings. The drag queens will perform at a drag brunch in Cambridge on Sunday morning, May 5.

“I think it’s really important that all  of these different communities come together, and I think that if Stetson and Tolliver saw what the Pride festival was and saw what members of the LGBT community do to celebrate, I think that they would end up becoming better informed and more accepting,” Hansen said.

 

The Elm

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