CHARDON, Ohio — Despite pushback leading up to the event, organizers and attendees at the inaugural Geauga County Pride celebration are calling it a success.
“Honestly it was a lot more exciting than I thought it was going to be just because of the backlash we thought we were going to get,” said Wesley Byrnes. “We got a lot of backlash online but it ended up being a really successful event.”
Byrnes and others said a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community is something they didn’t expect to see in Chardon Square or the rest of Geauga County.
“No, absolutely not. And I’m really glad we did have one. It’s been fantastic,” said Jessica Nocero.
Charlie Dale-Koenig added, “I came home to be home never imagining this day would even happen and that I’d live to see it.”
The LGBTQ activist and long-term AIDS survivor, was the keynote speaker at Geauga Pride.
“To be asked to speak, cut the ribbon here today, be myself in my hometown, it’s still unreal,” Dale-Koenig explained.
Many said the event was a sign of progress in the largely rural community 30 miles outside of Cleveland.
“I think that there are a lot of people in Geauga County and around Geauga County that haven’t had this kind of representation and can come to something like this and feel seen and understood,” Byrnes said. “I think that’s what pride does for everyone, but sometimes people can’t make it all the way to Cleveland or all the way to Columbus, so having one local – I think every county should have one.”
The celebration was not without controversy. Earlier in the month, some religious leaders and others sent a letter to Chardon city leaders expressing concern that the event would go against their Christian beliefs and a planned drag performance would be inappropriate for children.
On Tuesday, Chardon Christian Fellowship Pastor Wayne Sanders told News 5, “We didn't think it was something that children should be exposed to. That's something that we think is beyond the pale for them. And that was our main concern, is for children.”
Performers said the drag show was tailored for the audience and the performance itself is a form of self-expression.
“We made sure that we had songs and we had chosen performances that were appropriate,” Byrnes said. “We’re not hurting anyone. We’re just living our true, authentic selves and that’s all we want.”
Some families came to Geauga Pride to instill a sense of belonging.
“It was really important for me to be with my child so that they could see they’re not alone,” Nocero said. “There is a community. Our community is here, we’re part of this community. We live and work here and we belong here as well.”
Police said the event was peaceful and there was no sign of protests in response to it on Saturday.
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