Pride will be on display this weekend as the Eastern Panhandle's Lesbian Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) Alliance hosts its first ever "PRIDE" event at Morgan's Grove Park, Saturday, July 12 from noon until 6 p.m.
An international event that's been held since the 1970s, "PRIDE" has historically been an opportunity for members of the gay and lesbian community to vocalize political and social messages and celebrate achievements.
According to John Mason, president of the Eastern Panhandle Alliance, this event will be no different.
"We're basically trying to build recognition for the LQBTQ community," he said.
The Eastern Panhandle LGBTQ Alliance was established with a focus on offering support to youth.
"Our suicide rate is higher than any other group of people in the U.S.," Mason said.
"We felt there was a need to reach out to youth."
Mason said several local churches have agreed to participate, bolstering a commitment the group has to building outreach to religious organizations who do not typically support the LGBTQ community.
"We're trying to reconcile with the churches," he said.
Saturday's event, hosted by Mr. And Mrs. Gay West Virginia, Jackson Nite and Stephanie Michaels, will include a musical performance by local musician Kipyn Martin, food provided by "the Club," in Martinsburg, and drag performances by Brooke Lane
Dylan Dickersoon, Ferosha Sparxx, Jayden Elyse, Chloe Larocca
Alexa Vain, Dezi Minaj, Ka trina Knight and Shirley GoodnessMercy.
The Jefferson County Health Department will also be holding free HIV screenings during event and offering information.
Mason said the that since its inception in June of last year, the Eastern Panhandle Alliance has held a series or outreach and awareness events for the community, including picnics and bingo tournaments.
Mason said he can take pride in the fact that thousands of people have visited the group's Facebook page in the last year, many offering support.
"It's incredibly encouraging to know that there are that many people who identify with our community." he said.
Along with community outreach efforts the group has partnered with advocacy groups like Fairness West Virginia to pursue legal or legislative progress with regard to marriage equality and issues with discrimination in employment and housing in West Virginia.
Though the group has been met with some opposition Mason said the public reception has been generally positive.
"It's a really pleasant surprise," Mason said of the support the group has received.
"There's a lot of homophobia on the Panhandle, but there's a lot of love, too."
Mason said Martinsburg, Ranson, Charles Town, Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown have all adopted a formal proclamation naming July 12,
"Gay Pride Day."
"Shepherdstown supports equality for everyone," Mayor Jim Auxer said during a Town Council meeting.
Town Recorder Lori Robertson will be on hand Saturday to offer remarks on behalf of the Corporation of Shepherdstown in support of the event.
Those interested in finding out more about the group can visit the Alliance's Facebook page at facebook.com/EasternPanhandleLGBTQAlliance
or at the their web site: panhandlealliance.wix.com/panhandle-alliance.
Contact John Mason at PanhandleAlliance@yahoo.com, or 304-728-0247.
The event is free and open tot he public. Donations to the group will be accepted. No alcohol is being served.