Six Years of Pride

Youngstown’s sixth annual Gay Pride Parade and Festival will take place this Saturday in Downtown Youngstown. The parade begins at noon and festivities continue until 9 p.m. Admission is $2.

The festival, organized by Pride Youngstown, will feature food and merchandise vendors, music, arcade games, drag shows, a beer tent, and activities for children, as well as the main event parade.

Pride Youngstown is a nonprofit organization focusing on celebrating LGBT individuals and their heritage, as well as providing education and training to help bridge the gap between the LGBT community and the general public. Each year the organization raises money from small businesses and local organizations to support the event.

Helping to secure food and merchandise for the parade, Tim Bortner, vice president of YSUnity, has served as the vendor coordinator for the festival since 2012, a year after he became involved with the festival.

“I think we’re very lucky to have a gay pride festival in Youngstown, as a lot of them are in bigger cities… I’m very happy that Youngstown has one, and I think it’s very good to be involved with it, especially if you’re a part of the LGBT community,” Bortner said.

The Gay Pride Parade and Festival’s existence in Youngstown is evidence enough of a sizable support base for the LGBT community in the Mahoning Valley.

“We’ve had the same two food vendors each year who’ve been very supportive, a lot of pet organizations who are very involved…lots of nonprofits, and even companies such as Avon. It’s not just local either, there are national organizations, like Freedom to Marry, the American Civil Liberties Union, and state organizations like Equality Ohio,” Bortner explained.

While providing a venue for LGBT celebration and education is the festival’s primary goal, it also helps boost the downtown economy, bringing over 2,000 visitors to the area over the course of the event.

“The bars and restaurants will make money, that’s for sure,” Carlos Rivera Jr, a Pride Youngstown board member said.

Another board member, Anita Davis, added, “Our festival brings a lot of people from out of town who may have never had a reason to visit downtown before… It gives them an opportunity to see everything new that’s happening around here.”

The festival will be touting it’s own new features this year, including a kids-only area, nonstop music and stage entertainment, and arcade games, as well as a 150-foot pride flag to be carried during the parade down Market Street.

“That’s something that really sets our festival apart… Unlike other cities, our parade is happening right downtown, in the heart of the city,” Davis said.

The parade is open to all people, regardless of their gender preferences, and each member of Pride Youngstown was quick to stress the parade’s focus on inclusion.

“We’re not there to make anyone uncomfortable. If you’re interested, come,” Bortner said.

Davis added, “We’re just a downtown festival, just like the Italian festivals or Slavic festivals or Irish festivals… You don’t need to be gay to enjoy it. Music, food, entertainment, these are all things commonly enjoyed by everyone, and that’s exactly what we’re going to have.”