Toledo’s annual LGBTQ+ event hits a big milestone
In 1969, 50 years ago, police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City, triggering a riot that would crystallize America’s LGBTQ community and launch what would become known as the gay liberation movement. A year later, groups in Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere commemorated the anniversary of the riots with marches which eventually evolved into today’s Pride celebrations.
Nine years ago, Lexi Hayman-Staples was the driving force behind the first Toledo Pride event in August 2010. The first Pride event had organizers anticipating a crowd of 1,000 attendees. About 2,500 people showed up.
“We were inside the Erie Street Market, and we used a wish and some duct tape, just to try and turn it into something,” said Hayman-Staples. “But I think that people really wanted to see an event like this in our city. And so I think that for that same reason, it has just kept growing and growing.”
Over the past decade, Toledo Pride has grown into an area tradition, a multi-day event featuring a kick-off fundraiser gala, a parade, Sunday family events and more, aimed at raising awareness for the LGBTQ+ community and raising funds for area charities. And as the group prepares to celebrate the 10th Toledo Pride event, Hayman-Staples— still working as the event’s director— can’t help but be awed at how far the event has come.
“I think that when we started this whole thing if you told us that we were going to be at year ten and that the scale of the event would have grown so much, we would have been shocked, and very, very pleased,” Hayman-Staples explains. “We’re very excited at how the community has been very receptive to the event, and with all its kindness.”
Acceptance and pride
It’s not just Pride as an event that has grown by leaps and bounds, though. The visibility and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community have grown along with it. “Because of the size of the event, we have to work with a couple of other vendors than we usually use, because things just keep growing and growing. And when I first started to rent things for the event, I was hesitant to explain exactly what the event was, because I didn’t know how supportive certain companies would be.
“And now, I’m just, like, very plain about it. This is an LGBTQ Pride event. And we know that there’s enough support in the community to pick up any slack that may be left off by somebody not wanting to be involved. And we really haven’t had anybody who didn’t want to be involved, so that’s really cool, too.”
You Will Do Better in Drag
This year’s festivities begin on Friday, August 16 at Promenade Park, with “You Will Do Better in Drag” beginning at 6 pm. The Friday gathering, a Pride kick-off gala, is hosted by area radio personalities Eric Chase and Floyd Anderson, or rather Anderson’s alter-ego, Deja D. Dellataro.
“It is literally just a huge Pride kickoff party with local ‘illusionists’— that means drag queens, drag kings, we may even have some male performers, some female performers,” Anderson said. “It’s just a local event where performers from Northwest Ohio’s LGBTQ+ community perform a show at Promenade Park.”
Anderson has been the host since the show first began, under the name “Kiss ‘n Drag”, five years ago. The gala weekend kickoff performance was the brainchild of then-92.5 personality Phillipe Taylor. “Our first show was at Bretz nightclub, which has since closed,” Anderson said. “It was one of those things where we thought, ‘Oh, this sounds like a great idea! No one will really come out.’ And then the crowd was at capacity for the venue that night. So we understood, “we need to go to a bigger venue.’”
“You Will Do Better in Drag” has since evolved into a major fundraiser, with all donations going to Northwest Ohio Community Shares, which supports over 20 area nonprofit groups. “Inside the LGBT community, NWO Community Shares supports both Harvey House and Equality Toledo,” said Hayman-Staples. “They also support the Collingwood Arts Center and various other agencies that are doing amazing things in our community.
The festivities continue on Saturday, August 17 at noon, with the annual Pride parade down Adams St., followed by the Toledo Pride Main Event, held at Promenade Park at 1 pm, featuring more than 10 musical acts. The weekend closes out on Sunday, August 18 with the inaugural Rainbow Brunch Crawl down Adams St. in UpTown. All events are free to attend, though individuals who wish to sample the food on Sunday must purchase a $5 wristband.
“We always try to improve upon things and we will definitely be memorializing the Stonewall anniversary from the stage. It’s cool that we’re at this point and people have been fighting for LGBTQ rights for 50 years,” said Hayman-Staples.
The introduction of the Sunday brunch is part of an effort to have more events geared toward families, Hayman-Staples noted, though Toledo Pride has always been an event for all ages, at least until the sun goes down.
“We try to keep Pride pretty PG-13— like about 90% PG-13— up to about 9 pm. And then we ask that we don’t have any unaccompanied minors floating around. If people want to have their kids out, we think that’s great, but we don’t welcome unaccompanied minors after 9 pm.”
Celebrating with other Pride events across the nation and commemorating major milestones, those who have worked to make Toledo Pride a reality explained what the events over the past ten years have meant to them and to their community.
“Toledo Pride, to me, means visibility,” Anderson said. “Not just for us in the LGBTQ+ community who are out, but also for those who aren’t allowed to be out, or who are afraid to come out. It’s visibility. Just know that there is a community there, waiting for you with open arms.
We are everyday people. We all wake up, we go to a 9-5, we pay bills, we pay taxes, we have families at home. We are everyday Americans, just like everyone else. We participate in Pride to show that we are here. We’ve positively made some strides for the gay/lesbian/transgender community, but we still have a long way to go.”
“People can come out and see that there are many people that support us, and feel comfortable,” Hayman-Staples relates. “Just feel safe for that moment in time, that you can feel unjudged, wear what you want and be who you want, and not feel like anyone’s thinking anything negative about you. Just feel safe and at home. That’s our goal.”
For more information about Toledo Pride and its events, visit ToledoPride.com.