HAVRE DE GRACE — With rainbow flags flying and other LGBT-related decorations positioned proudly, community members will hold the first ever Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, June 22, in Concord Lighthouse Park.
The event will celebrate the LGBT+ community — which includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other members of various sexual/romantic orientations and gender identities — and will be open to LGBT+ individuals and allies alike.
While Cecil County does not have its own Pride event, Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride in Havre de Grace will be welcome to folks from all around the region and beyond, according to DeLane Lewis, president of the Harford County/Upper Chesapeake chapter of Together We Will, a grassroots progressive organization.
“We were intentional in the name of the event, calling it Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride, because we absolutely consider Cecil County to be a part of this event,” Lewis said. “We’re very excited about it and we definitely intend that they are an integral part of what we’re doing and that the message of inclusion gets delivered in Cecil County also.”
The event is being organized by the Harford County/Upper Chesapeake chapters of Together We Will and PFLAG, as well as St. John’s Episcopal Church. Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride will feature representation from Cecil College and other groups from this county, and will include live music, drag queen performances, a Pride pet costume contest, and other family-friendly activities, according to Lewis.
Many Pride events in other locales feature a Pride parade. With this being the first year of Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride, Lewis said the organizers will be opting for a smaller Pride promenade around the park that anyone can watch or participate in, though she hopes there will be room for expansion in future years.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in which LGBT+ individuals revolted against police who raided the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, on June 28, 1969.
At the time, police routinely raided bars and other LGBT+ enclaves to crack down on appearances and behaviors that did not conform to cisgender heteronormative standards. That night set into motion the first Pride marches and protests on the first year anniversary of Stonewall in 1970 and in the decades that followed.
Yvonne Matthews, president of the Harford County chapter of PFLAG, said the fact that the first year of Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride falls on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall is just a coincidence. But she said as the community recognizes this milestone, it serves as an opportunity to reflect on both how far society has come and the progress it still needs to make.
Though she is not a member of the LGBT+ community, Matthews said the community is near and dear to her heart as the parent of a transgender son.
“When he first came out and I looked around for other people who had walked this path, I couldn’t find anybody in Harford County. We had nothing,” she said. “With that looking around, I found a couple of other people and we started a PFLAG chapter. It became very apparent, very quickly that there are really just no resources or opportunities for connection or avenues for enjoying activities within the community in our area.”
When Lewis approached PFLAG with the idea of starting a local Pride festival, Matthews said they jumped on board as fast as they could.
Matthews said acceptance for gay and lesbian people has come a long way since Stonewall. But when it comes to support for transgender and gender-nonconforming people, she said society still has a ways to go as it works to embrace a world beyond a gender binary.
“As a member of PFLAG, the type of people who walk through our door for support are not primarily gay or parents of gay kids. They are gender-related,” she said. “There’s a lot more acceptance of the gay community. We do see a lot of progress in the transgender and gender-nonconforming communities in the last five years. You see them coming out more and more, you see them coming out younger and younger, because they feel safer to do that than they did a generation ago.”
But while Matthews has seen more transgender and gender-nonconforming people coming out of the closet and seeking resources, she noted that discrimination against those individuals has also become prevalent.
The Human Rights Campaign tracked 26 deaths of transgender people in the United States in 2018, many of them being trans women of color. So far in 2019, the HRC has tracked nine deaths of transgender people in the U.S.
“The current political environment is feeding the fear and the disinformation and the hatred of this community across the board,” she said. “We are seeing incidents of discrimination and violence increasing. So I think at the national level, with that rhetoric, it’s been trickling down.”
Although Matthews said the U.S. has faltered a bit in the fight for LGBT+ acceptance and protection, she is confident that rainbows of hope are emerging from the storm and paving the way for a brighter future for her son and other members of the LGBT+ community.
“We’re seeing more acceptance and we’re seeing more visibility of the community at the same time that we’re seeing an increase in the negativity toward the community,” she said. “I think we have a lot of ground that we need to retake, but I think at the core level the people as a whole are much more accepting than I had feared as a parent.”
Matthews said she and her family has even had people reach out to show their support directly.
“We’ve had a lot of love. We’ve had a lot of acceptance. We’ve had a lot of ‘Oh I know somebody like that,’ or ‘I have somebody in my family that’s trans or gender-nonconforming’ and they celebrate that person,” she said. “So I think we’re seeing more of that, but we have taken a few steps backward at the overall national level.”
Matthews hopes that both the LGBT+ and non-LGBT people who attend Upper Chesapeake Bay Pride will come away with better connections with their community.
“The LGBT community, I hope really hard that they come away with a sense of an accepting and loving community, and that their network of friends and alliances grow,” she said. “At the general non-LGBT community, I hope they gain some information and they see that this is a community that’s just like the rest of us.”
Likewise, Lewis hopes the festival will make members of the LGBT+ community feel less alone.
“The main goal of this is to just send a message of welcome and support,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for members of the community to meet each other, to have an opportunity to appreciate how large this community is within our counties, and also have an opportunity to meet all the many allies that are out there so there’s not so much isolation.”