Organizers say Paducah will have its first LGBTQ Pride Festival next month. The inaugural Western Kentucky Pride Festival is August 24 and 25 at the riverfront downtown.
Festival director Dustin Havens grew up on the west coast where there's a lot of pride festivals, wanted that culture in west Kentucky for its sense of community, and wants people to come and experience the diversity of west Kentucky.
"We want people to be able to come - whether they're part of the LGBTQ community or not - we want them to be able to come and realize that we're all like-minded, we're all citizens of western Kentucky or visitors of western Kentucky,” said Havens. “We want everybody to just have a sense of community and have fun and enjoy themselves and maybe lift some stigma and stereotypes that have been present, kind of let those fade away and realize what is really out there."
The collaborative effort includes Out Paducah, Life Point Fellowship, the Cinema Systers Film Festival and the River Rose Lounge, among others, Havens said.
Saturday will be "an entertainment-packed celebration" with musicians, drag performers, belly dancers, fire eaters and a bed of nails act. The festival will also include games, food, arts vendors, crafts for children sponsored by the McCracken County Library and a separate beer garden for adults. Sunday will feature speakers of different faiths and philosophies talking about what Pride means to them.
When asked about young people experiencing the festival, Havens said it’s important to the organizers to make the festival family-friendly. “We want people to know - these kids to know - that it’s okay to be you. It’s okay to be true to yourself. And you don’t have to be ashamed of who you are. You don’t have to hide who you are. And you can just celebrate who you are. And that’s what I want from the festival and that’s what I know a lot of my co-directors want. We just want everyone to know they are loved and they can be who they are.”
“Our area is ready,” Havens said. “Our area is ready to be inclusive and loving and equality for all.” On the recent Pride march in Murray, Havens said any kind of movement that shows equality and inclusivitiy is "an amazing movement."
Organizers plan to open a welcome center in Paducah after the festival that will direct people to LGBTQ-friendly businesses and offer other services. “Businesses that support the LGBTQ community can join as a member of the welcome center so that we can get that information out and let people know that these businesses are the businesses that support us. These are the businesses that are accepting and understanding and they’re there for us,” said Havens. The center will also have merchandise from local non-profits and an on-site grant writer for the LGBTQ community to start or expand their businesses.
The City of Paducah enacted a ‘fairness ordinance’ last year. Paducah amended the ordinance earlier this year to protect religious liberties. City officials received criticism from some community members at a recent meeting for supporting the LGBTQ community, with those criticisms citing religious reasoning. Many LGBTQ supporters attended this meeting.
Next year’s festival will be moved to June to coincide with Pride Month.
More about events and information at the Western Kentucky Pride Festival Facebook page.