Festival isn't about sexual preference -- it's about unity

Jeff Neal

We have a group of exciting young leaders in our community who talk a lot about growth.

Well, when a community grows, it also becomes more diverse.

So if you long for growth, and celebrate progress, it certainly stands to reason that a community should take pride in its diversity as well.

On Oct. 5, the Judicial Center Plaza will be the site of the Chill Out and Proud Festival.

It's not so different from other community events that make our downtown area so special -- only this event is the first one ever inspired by Pulaski County's LGBTQ demographic and their friends.

But it's more than a "gay pride" event. It's a family-friendly festival that will feature morning yoga, a chili lunch (beef and vegetarian chili), live music, vendors, a local artist paint-off, and an expo featuring the SomerCity Roller Derby team. There will be activities for kids, too.

I see it as an invitation by this segment of our community to the rest of us to come out and meet them. It's an opportunity for us all to get to know them. I think we will see they're not that different from you and I -- they're just Pulaski countians who are proud of their town, and proud of who they are.

What's there not to like?

Well, this is small-town America -- and without a doubt change and progress come slowly. Sometimes it is painfully slow.

And it goes without saying that acceptance of those who don't look like us, pray like us, talk like us or have sex like us, is difficult for some people.

Two decades ago, no one in the local LGBTQ community would've dared propose a festival. Even five years ago, it probably would not have been attempted. I dare say that not so long ago, gay and transgendered people in Somerset remained in the closet, for the most part, because they feared being the target of ridicule and hate.

And is Somerset ready now? I think, for the most part, our little town will be accepting -- even if some folks choose not to participate.

Naturally, there will be a segment of the community that will vocally oppose the event, simply because they "do not agree" with a gay "lifestyle."

Again, acceptance is slow -- particularly if one believes his religion prohibits him from accepting. It's certainly OK for people to have religious conviction. And if that conviction somehow makes you feel as though you cannot support this festival, that's fine. If you feel that way, you should definitely stay away. No one should feel forced to be a part of something they just cannot get behind, for whatever reason.

What I would hate to see is unaccepting people showing up to protest this festival. There are many community events in town. No one protests Somernites Cruise. No one protests SomerHarvest. No one protests the annual Christmas parade or the Day or Prayer. It would be plain wrong for anyone to try and ruin those events. I'm sure some people don't like cool old cars -- and those people probably just won't come downtown for the car show.

Let's give this group the same consideration we give other event organizers. Don't ruin their event just because you have an issue with their sexual preference or gender identity.

That's not really what this event is about, anyway. It's about inclusion -- making sure everyone is a part of our town.

It's about a diverse community becoming united.

And if you have a problem with unity, there's something wrong with you -- not the event or its organizers.

JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.

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