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10 Lesser-Known Pride Celebrations: How America Shows Pride from Alabama to Utah

10 Lesser-Known Pride Celebrations: How America Shows Pride from Alabama to Utah

On June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village.  The raid sparked a riot that led to six days of protests and violence between patrons and law enforcement later dubbed “The Stonewall Riots.” In subsequent years, Pride celebrations honored those uprisings with annual events, drawing huge crowds. In 2019, New York celebrated the largest Pride celebration in history, the Stonewall 50 — WorldPride NYC 2019, which ultimately boasted five million attendees.

But aside from the big names, like NYC Pride, Capital Pride in Washington, D.C., San Francisco Pride and PrideFest in Denver, small communities have found their own ways to celebrate Pride, all notable for different reasons. Some impressive events are birthed out of exceptionally small towns. Other celebrations take place in states that are actively trying to shut them down. And yet, all these cities without exception have claimed Pride as their own.

Here are 10 Pride celebrations that prove Pride is for all corners of America, big and small.

Spencer, Indiana

Population: 2,335

Spencer Pride's Pet Pride Parade (C) Joel Bottom, courtesy of Spencer Pride
Spencer Pride's Pet Pride Parade (C) Joel Bottom, courtesy of Spencer Pride

Spencer is an example of a community that feels ahead of its time. “People perceived our town as a very, very conservative place,” said Jonathan Balash, president of Spencer Pride and a regional director for InterPride, a global coalition of Pride organizers, in an interview with them magazine. “What we found was there’s really a great mix of ideologies here, but people were afraid to speak out.”

This year marks Spencer’s 14th year celebrating Pride in a festival that’s the largest rural LGBTQ+ gathering in the whole state of Indiana, drawing people from far beyond the small town. In 2019, 5,000 people showed up, more than double the town’s population. Spencer proudly features a pet Pride parade in addition to standard events like drag shows and street performances.

Despite being well-loved by many, Spencer Pride has experienced its fair share of controversy. In 2020, the Owen County Board of Commissioners passed a “special events ordinance” that closed off restrooms for large event-goers at the courthouse causing organizers to scramble for other options, per WRTV Indianapolis. According to The Bloomingtonian, this ordinance was born from a petition submitted by a community member with 1046 signatures.

Balash said he saw these actions as attempts to shut down Pride or silence the people who organize it. However, he and other organizers were confident in their abilities to adapt.

"This is something that's not gonna keep us from thriving," Balash said in an interview with WRTV. "We want to have a thriving downtown community, we love our downtown community. We don't want to move to the fairgrounds or go to some private venue elsewhere."

Beyond Pride itself, Spencer Pride also has an LGBTQ+ center in downtown Spencer, making it the smallest town in the U.S. with such a resource. The Spencer Pride community center offers a variety of services and hosts a youth group for LGBTQ+ teens and allies from ages 12-19, ensuring that queer Spencerites feel proud all year long.

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Population: 76,019

(C) OutFront Kalamazoo[/caption]
(C) OutFront Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo’s Pride festival has expanded exponentially over the last few years. It draws over 8,000 people annually and is a two-day festival organized by OutFront Kalamazoo, an organization that offers a range of programs and services for LGBTQ folks in the area.

Drag queen Sutton Lee Seymour, who attended the Pride celebration in college, reflected on how much it has grown since then. “Pride a decade ago was a barbecue,” she said in an interview with Thrillist. “Maybe a hundred or so people would come and it was a great party, but now it has grown into something huge where they’re bringing Drag Race girls.”

This year, their Pride events include the #AlwaysOutFront Awards bestowed upon citizens to “recognize the accomplishments of those who advance the movement for justice and equality,” according to their website. Though the traditional two-day celebration is being held virtually this year, they’re also planning an in-person rally for September.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Population: 177,117

Sioux Falls Pride kickoff event flyer hosted at the Veaudevil Cabaret (C) Sioux Falls Pride
Sioux Falls Pride kickoff event flyer hosted at the Veaudevil Cabaret (C) Sioux Falls Pride

Sioux Falls is one community celebrating Pride in person this year. In Sioux Falls, Pride has been celebrated since 2000; it was first hosted by the Center for Equality in Sioux Falls, an LGBTQ focused non-profit organization that provided support and services for the LGBTQ community in the area, which has since become Sioux Falls Pride.

Delighted Tobehere, a drag queen based in New York, attended their events and called Sioux Falls Pride a “very comfortable Pride festival, because everyone was so warm and welcoming,” in a 2019 interview with Thrillist.

Sioux Falls Pride has grown from 1,000 attendees at the first festival to nearly 10,000 annual visitors. This year’s celebration includes a parade, an all-day park event with food, sales, information, non-profit vendors and an after-party.

Hendersonville, North Carolina

Population: 13,908

Hendersonville Pride "All Are Welcome Here" decals (C) Hendersonville Pride
Hendersonville Pride "All Are Welcome Here" decals (C) Hendersonville Pride

Instead of a march or parade, Hendersonville celebrates Pride with a picnic. The tradition started in 2019, when they held a potluck that aimed to bring people together that may not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. held their first Pride celebration in 2019 and it’s on again this year. At this year’s “Picnic for Pride,” Hendersonville is asking that people bring their own food instead of sharing due to concerns of COVID-19 transmission, but they are still holding the event in the hopes that people can share games and conversation all the same.

In an NPR interview, Don Streb, an organizer for Hendersonville Pride, expressed his excitement at the 2019 celebration’s turnout, which was close to 500 people. “People keep coming and food keeps coming, and it's just a day of Pride that's making me choke up,” Streb said.

One younger attendee, then-20-year-old Hector Trejo, made a cake in 2019 exclaiming “Happy first Pride, Hendersonville!” He also spoke to NPR about the power of Pride. “I was in the closet for a long time. And to me, seeing all of this right now —just seeing everyone so happy — is amazing,” Trejo said.

Bloomington, Indiana

Population: 84,116

Bloomington PrideFest 2019 (C) Korey L. Jarmon / Bloomington PRIDE
Bloomington PrideFest 2019 (C) Korey L. Jarmon / Bloomington PRIDE

Thrillist named Bloomington PRIDE “the best college town pride in the nation” and Indiana-based drag queen Ruth N. Nasia echoed this, saying "Bloomington Pride is special, because though the town can feel small, it doesn't during Pride, when almost the whole city is decked out in celebration of queer people who paved the way before us and those who are doing so now.”

Bloomington PRIDE will be putting on its seventh annual Bloomington PrideFest this summer, a unique Pride celebration for its workshops with activists and experts and wellness activities. While this year's lineup has yet to be released, Bloomington's 2020 workshops included one on voting rights with the ACLU of Indiana and another on Black Lives Matter in Bloomington. Other events from last year included screenings, a drag queen story hour, and a spoken word performance.

In addition to organizing PrideFrest, Bloomington PRIDE also oversees and operates three programs. They have the LGBTQ Aging & Caring Network for aging LGBTQ+ individuals, the Prism Youth Community for celebrating and honoring young people’s gender identities and sexual orientations, and the Trans & Allies Support Community, which is peer-facilitated and works to affirm transgender and nonbinary individuals through advocacy and community initiatives.

Buffalo, New York

Population: 256,480

I randomly ended up at the Pride and it was amazing. A chance I had my camera! It was the first time I attended an event like this and the atmosphere was so joyful and festive. So much smiles on people’s faces in times where it is still harder to find some. Pride reminds us to show our true colours, to be true to ourselves and to others.
Buffalo Pride Week 2018 (C) Buffalo Pride Week / Evergreen Health Foundation 

Buffalo Pride Week runs events for the entire month of June to extend the celebration, noting on their site that “Pride Week is more than just a parade and festival, it’s about our entire Buffalo community coming together to celebrate LGBTQ+ culture and identity. We all celebrate Pride in different ways, which is why you’ll find a wide range of events to support during Buffalo Pride Week.”

This year, those events include a Pride celebration at their local children’s museum, a panel on issues of LGBTQ+ youth in foster care, a planting of a rainbow garden, a cornhole tournament and a karaoke night.

Buffalo Pride has roots in the late 1980s, when the Buffalo Gay & Lesbian Community Network was founded and the Lesbian and Gay Pride Unit Fest began. In 1998, Pride Buffalo was officially incorporated as a not-for-profit organization and has been running Pride ever since, with the help of the Pride Center of Western New York since 2010.

Ogden, Utah

Population: 86,833

(C) Ogden Pride

Utah is known for being a particularly difficult state to exist as an LGBTQ+ individual due to 62% of the state’s population and most lawmakers in the Utah legislature being Mormon, according to an Los Angeles Times’ article. The Mormon Church’s website reads, "The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is."

Smaller communities within Utah, like Ogden, though, are still finding ways to celebrate Pride. Ogden Pride was first organized in 2014, and their 2021 festival will run all day and include performers and vendors.

“The importance of Pride Festivals [in Utah] cannot be overstated,” said Madison Hayes, a writer for Alliance for a Better Utah. “Far from being sites for what the morality police might call ‘homosexual indoctrination,’ Pride events create a safe place for members of Utah’s LGBT community.”

Dover, Delaware

Population: 37,523

Delaware Pride 2019 (C) Delaware Pride

The 2021 Delaware Pride Festival is featuring several winners of LGBTQ+ pageants — the 2016 Delaware Pride Queen Miss Peaches, the 2014 Delaware Pride Newcomer Cherry St. Cartier, and the 2021 Miss Gay Wilmington Tamia Mykles — in addition to a variety of entertainment and vendors.

The Delaware Pride Festival is held in Dover and is the single largest LGBTQ+ gathering in Delaware each year. “This event provides an opportunity for the city to see us, meet us and (most importantly) get to know us as people,” wrote the organizing committee on their website. “Neighbors who have the same ambitions, troubles and joy as everyone else. We believe that the best way to advance equality and tolerance of differences is through social interaction and familiarity.”

Auburn, Alabama

Population: 64,054

Pride on the Plains 2021 kickoff event with a celebration of the drag community (C) Pride on the Plains

In 2020, USA Today named Alabama as “the worst state in the nation for LGBTQ Americans”due to its small LGBTQ+ population and lack of progressive legislature. There’s also been an issue across Alabama with reporting hate crimes; according to BirminghamWatch, Alabama did not report any hate crimes on the FBI’s annual Unified Crime Report in 2019 or 2020. Allison Padilla Goodman, Vice President of the Anti-Defamation League’s South Division, said she finds it highly implausible that no hate crimes were committed, chalking the zero cases up to a lack of reporting as opposed to a lack of hate. Additionally, when the ADL made a list of the 10 U.S. cities with populations over 100,000 that did not report any data or said there were zero cases, five of them were cities in Alabama: Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville.

However, Auburn and the surrounding communities are served by Pride on the Plains, an organization whose mission is “to foster a sense of community through celebration, education, empowerment, and inclusion among Alabama’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and allied peoples,” according to a statement on their site.

The organization holds an annual parade and festival with entertainment and food. This year, Pride on the Plains expanded their reach by also organizing a Juneteenth celebration, which they hope to make an annual event alongside their Pride celebration.

Chillicothe, Ohio

Population: 21,719

Chillicothe Pride Walk 2017 (C) Chillicothe Pride

Chillicothe Pride is an ode to the progress of the past few years. Five years ago, a Pride walk was planned but fell apart due to lack of interest. This year, Chillicothe is celebrating with not only a walk, but also a festival, pool party, and a dance.

Daniel Mathuews, a pansexual therapist and father of three, was part of the efforts to revive Pride in Chillicothe, and hopes it will help a feeling he picks up among queer people living in the small town. “A lot of my clients are isolated within the rural communities they live in,” he said in an interview with them. “They don’t feel safe to express themselves.”

What is Pride like in your town? If you think we missed any celebrations that should be included on this list, let us know in the comments!