The Falls Is Full Of PRIDE
Deb Dockery, 11-30-2018

The crowd at this year's Akron PRIDE event.
Stephen Mulé
The Falls Free Press recently sat down with Falls Family PRIDE event organizer and First Christian Church Pastor Debbie Saxe, along with Akron PRIDE organizer and Chief Summit County Prosecutor Gert Wilms to discuss the important issues PRIDE events bring to light and the work still at hand for LGBTQ rights and justice.

According to Wilms, the Akron PRIDE event grew significantly in 2018 with 15,000-20,000 attendees, up from 8,000-10,000 the previous year. She attributes the growth to the increased support for the LGBTQ community since the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling of the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Beyond that, she said, “there is support both financially and emotionally from the Akron City Government that was not a part of the previous administration.”

Wilms also reports that the Akron PRIDE event had no protestors, despite some pushback from community members. “We know there is still dissent in our country,” she said, adding that “there are still some issues with those who are not supportive and it is understanding where everyone is coming from in their journey … but my priority is for the LGBT voices to be heard and representing the city in that voice.” This representation includes the business and philanthropic community, including The Knight Foundation, PNC Bank, Huntington Bank, and many more. Wilms was moved to see “all the funding coming together without judgement and with complete acceptance so the festival could be free.”

The PRIDE event has achieved a lot in the LGBTQ community via advocacy for organizations like GLSEN and PFLAG along with the formation of a partnership to combat issues faced by the LGBTQ community. Still, Wilms is well aware of the work that still needs to be done to address the community’s concerns. The collaboration of LGBTQ organizations with racial and ethnic groups, which Wilms admits still needs to be addressed more effectively, as well as the community’s increased anxiety in the current political climate have both been of concern. Nevertheless, she says, “when you see the numbers that we have for PRIDE and that everyone can come and feel safe, accepted and loved, it’s a great day for us.”

In her role as Pastor of the Falls First Christian Church, Debbie Saxe attended and participated in the Akron PRIDE event and discussed with her congregation a family-friendly event in the Falls. The church held a special service for National Coming Out Day and discussed holding a family event that would be less risqué than Akron PRIDE, yet as open and affirming as the church has positioned itself to be.

“There was a woman in our congregation who shared her experience of a daughter coming out … [and] she didn’t feel there was a place for her to process what she was feeling, without being villainized,” Saxe said. “We want to be celebratory, but provide solid resources for friends and family members who are at different stages of acceptance and affirmation. We know and understand there are certainly going to be families who are venturing into new territories … and we want to have resources available.”

As for support from other churches, Saxe notes that “It has been surprisingly silent … historically the LGBT community has been reluctant to reach out to churches.” She expressed her hope that “other businesses and churches will see [the Falls Family PRIDE] festival as a catalyst to do more in the future.” Church support notwithstanding, the festival did receive support from the business community. Akron-based Event Customs and the Dimensions of Isms organization helped bring the event to fruition alongside the church, and local businesses like the Harps and Thistles Yarn Emporium—who provided materials for the unique art installation pictured on the cover—were on board early on. The City of Cuyahoga Falls also reached out to help and participate.

Both Saxe and Wilms seem to appreciate that the LGBTQ community is healthier in terms of visibility in the community than ever before, even if they do acknowledge that there is still work to be done. The business and philanthropic communities plus local governments also seem to be supportive, which is another dimension of support, particularly in light of this visibility. All of which seems to indicate that the PRIDE movement has many reasons to be proud.

Check out the Falls First Christian Church on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/fallsfcc/ and the Akron PRIDE Festival at https://www.facebook.com/AkronPrideFestival.


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