Youngstown takes pride

Pride Youngstown celebrated their fifth annual Gay Pride Parade and Festival on Friday and Saturday. The theme of the parade was “Embracing Diversity”.

Pride Youngstown is a nonprofit organization that consists of members who work each year to organize and coordinate the Gay Pride Parade and Festival. Pride Youngstown teamed up with YSUnity, a student organization that promotes awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex and allies.

Kim Akins, a board member of Pride Youngstown, said that they are a non-profit organization funded by the Raymond John Wean Foundation. “We use all contributions to fund the parade and festival; anything that is left over contributes to the next year’s festival and parade,” Akins said. Festivities began Friday night and ended on Saturday.

“The weekend kicked off with the festival beginning on Friday night. On Saturday, we started off with a commitment ceremony of two partners at 10:30. The parade began at noon, then concluded with a ribbon cutting service with the mayor to start the festival,” Akins said.

The festival included entertainment from the YOUnify: Mahoning Valley Pride Youth Theater, many local bands, a flash mob, food and even drag shows.

Tim Bortner, vendor coordinator for Pride Youngstown and vice president of YSUnity, and all of the board members of Pride Youngstown plan for the festival and parade months in advanced.

“The members of Pride Youngstown board and I start prepping six to eight months before the festival. We have two to three meetings every week. Then in May, we have a meeting every week,” Bortner said.

Bortner described his duties of being the vendor coordinator of the festival. “Since I am the vendor coordinator, I have to contact each and every vendor that is participating in the festival. This year we had over 50 vendors, 10 being food vendors,” Bortner said.

Lisa Ronquillo, board member of Pride Youngstown and president of YSUnity, said she want people to be aware of Pride Youngstown.

“I want people to get a feel of what Pride Youngstown is and the diversity of the community without the craziness. Being that we are in Youngstown, we get an advantage than the bigger cities like Columbus and Cleveland,” said Ronquillo.

Ronquillo said she likes the low-key, family-friendly feeling the city of Youngstown contributes to the festival.

“Even though Youngstown is a small city, we still receive a good turn out every year for the festival. Since we are not a big city, our attendants feel connected,” said Ronquillo.

Ken Holt, attendant of the Gay Pride Festival and graduate of Youngstown State Univeristy, explained why he attends the festival every year.

“I am apart of the gay community, and I love the fact that Youngstown is trying to have a presence. I look forward to the festival every year to try out the food, meet some new people, support YSUnity and have fun,” Holt said.

Megan Schedosky, who attended the festival, said she looks forward to meeting new people.

“It’s a celebration of something I love and take pride in. I have attended the festival for the last two years, and every year I have had so much fun. I love coming down each year to meet new people,” Schedosky said.

Bortner explained some changes they will make for next year’s festival.

“This year’s parade and festival was a success, a lot better than last year. Although, we can use some change. Next year, we are going to cut back on the amount of food vendors and provide more nonprofit vendors. Each year we get better and better at conducting the parade and festival in Youngstown. So next year will be even better,” Bortner explained.Ronquillo agreed.

“The festival was a lot better than last year. But every year we take notes on what works and what doesn’t. Like last year it was too spread out so this year we made the festival on only one street instead of a whole block,” said Ronquillo.

Overall the board members of Pride Youngstown and YSUnity were impressed on the turnout of the festival and parade.

“It is great how the city of Youngstown all comes together in something they like and take pride in,” said Ronquillo.