Panhandle Pride event offers support, fun
On Saturday afternoon, Morgan’s Grove Park in Shepherdstown was awash in all colors of the rainbow as individuals of all ages, community groups and other organizations gathered to celebrate at the 2015 “We are Family” Panhandle Pride Celebration.
The event, hosted by the Eastern Panhandle LGBTQ Alliance of West Virginia, featured food, music, live performances, information and community outreach and a chance for people in the LGBTQ community to meet one another.
“Last year, we had a couple of decisions on DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and Proposition 8,” said John Mason, president of the Eastern Panhandle LGBTQ Alliance of West Virginia. “This year, it’s even better because we have marriage all across America, and we’re so happy about that. This is a time of joy and hope and peace and it’s really good.”
Mason said the Eastern Panhandle LGBTQ Alliance was founded in June 2013 to reach out to people in the regional LGBTQ community.
The group gives people a sense of identity and belonging, Mason said, and works to advocate for the LGBTQ community within the larger community.
The group provides support and information to those who may not be accepted as they are-and especially focuses on offering support for youth who may be bullied due to their sexual orientation.
“Depression is a big part of the gay community, and we’re trying to deal with the depression of loneliness. It’s important to let people know that they’re not alone to deal with their depression and give them the resources they need to get help. Resources in the Panhandle for the LGBTQ community are very poor. Pride is all about giving people the sense that they belong to something big and they’re not alone,” Mason said.
Paula Raigner, who attended the event, said she has lots to celebrate as a lesbian woman.
“I just got married to a wonderful lady on June 6,” she said. “(My partner and I) always end up going to the D.C. Pride rally, but couldn’t make it this year, so we came here. This is a big time for the gay community. I’m glad to support anything that supports us.”
Raigner said when she was younger, she was not bullied by peers for her sexual orientation-but she did keep it a secret during her high school years.
Friends Taylor Smith and Corinne Pruscha, both students at Jefferson High School, said they were not so lucky, and often hear insensitive comments from classmates.
“That’s a big reason why we came here today, because people at school are not aware of their surroundings and are really judgmental of others at school,” Smith said.
The girls said they are trying to start a support group for other LGBTQ students at Jefferson High School.
Pruscha said she also attended the event to provide moral support to Smith, and said they felt welcomed at the Panhandle Pride celebration.
“It’s really uplifting here,” Pruscha said. “Everyone has a smile.”