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Hundreds Celebrate LGBTQ Community At Murray Parade, Picnic

Liam Niemeyer
Residents from Murray and other nearby communities begin the Pride parade by Murray State University's campus on Saturday.

More than two hundred people gathered in Murray for a parade through town and a picnic at a local park Saturday to celebrate the LBGTQ community, as a part of Pride month. For some, the celebration was the first Pride event they had ever attended, and the event was only the second ever Pride celebration held in the western Kentucky college town.

The parade started by Murray State University’s campus and went through neighborhood streets, with many waving flags representing various parts of the LGBTQ community and holding up signs with phrases including “Trans Rights Are Human Rights.”

Murray State graduate Lindsee Lyles was among those walking in the parade for her first Pride celebration, something she had learned last year she wanted to do but couldn’t because of the pandemic. For her, Pride means acceptance.

“Learning who you are, accepting that for yourself, but also coming to this community where other people will accept you,” Lyles said, who identities as pansexual. “Even if that doesn’t happen at home, finding it with someone else.”

Along the parade route, two people were offering that acceptance in the form of hugs, holding signs that said ‘Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Dad Hugs.” There were a lot of takers.

“I’m here to give hugs to people that don’t get hugs,” Murray resident Erin McClure said, who had a daughter in the parade. “I give my kids hugs every day. I know that this is a community that might lack hugs from moms.”

Some of those in the parade came from western Kentucky communities where they said they didn’t feel as comfortable in representing themselves. Micah Prakin is a senior at Murray State studying creative writing, and he said that’s the way he felt in his hometown of Madisonville.

“Especially with coming out of isolation from COVID, as a group of people, whether you're trans, gay, gender-nonconforming — no matter what you experience isolation, regardless of a pandemic,” Prakin said. “Whenever you come together and celebrate, and you have these events, where you can have some sort of family and know that you're not alone, that is more important than anything.”

The parade eventually spilled into Chestnut Park, where several vendors were set up with information booths, including the domestic violence crisis center Merryman House, several local churches, and the advocacy group West KY NOW. At one point, community members came to talk to the crowd, one of them speaking to the trauma that some LGBTQ people have percieved growing up in unwelcoming church communities.

“There are plenty of children and adults in this area who aren't straight or cis, and many churches in this area just aren't safe for them. And they deserve to have a place where they can be understood, not just by an ally, but by a part of their own community,” said Zeb Treloar, who recently became the new priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Murray.

Treloar said he and his husband moved to Murray about a month ago from Iowa and had decided western Kentucky was a place he wanted to live and minister in because he believed LGBTQ representation mattered, especially for youth in the region. But the rigid reality of some church communities, he said, even in his own denomination, can be challenging for LGBTQ youth.

“I want and long for an area to have multiple worshiping communities, with a variety of traditions that I would feel comfortable sending family to where we know we would be supported. And that's my dream. Because I'm sick and tired of the church killing our spirits,” Treloar said.

Liam Niemeyer
Zeb Treloar of St. John's Episcopal Church in Murray was one of a few speakers at the picnic.

While the picnic was an opportunity for the community to come together, it also featured political organizing and calls to action. Some booths in the park were registering people to vote, another was inviting people to send messages to local elected officials urging them to ban conversion therapy in the state, and the statewide advocacy group the Fairness Campaign was also present.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, said it’s been difficult to encourage local governments in western Kentucky to adopt fairness ordinances, compared to cities in northern and central Kentucky. Generally, fairness ordinances would ban LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, and public accomadations.

Hartman said even though the Supreme Court ruled last year civil rights law extends to LGBTQ employees, those in the LGBTQ community could still be discriminated against with public accomodations, including businesses or parks.

“[This picnic] is where we find our supporters. This is where we get folks to send messages to their legislators. So, I've probably had hundreds of folks send messages to their state representative, state senator here, and we're going to leverage those folks here at the local government level as well,” Hartman said.

According to the Fairness Campaign, 22 local governments including Paducah have passed fairness ordinances, with another northern Kentucky city considering the policy.

Maddie Leach, a local lawyer and a trangender woman, also brought attention to violence that some transgender people have faced. Speaking to the crowd, Leach read the names of transgender and gender-nonconforming people killed this year across the country.

“Trans violence and violence against queer people is a pandemic, across this country and across the world,” Leach said. “These names are just going to be names of people who have been killed in the United States. I didn't do the research to find out who had been killed in the Middle East, or been killed in other countries or had been killed in Russia.”

Liam Niemeyer
Maddie Leach (right) speaks to the crowd, asking them to stand up as Leach reads a list of transgender people killed this year across the country.

One of the lead organizers of the event Murray State Professor Christine Lindner said the event was planned weeks in advance, considering other Pride events in the region had been delayed or canceled due to the pandemic. The first Murray Pride parade in 2019 was planned with little notice, and more local businesses and organizations were able to be involved this year, she said.

“I think just showing how widespread the LGBTQ community is and how diverse it is, and how we are a major part of the Murray and west Kentucky population. I think that's an important thing,” Lindner said.

Disclosure: WKMS Public Radio had an information booth at the picnic, staffed by non-WKMS News personnel.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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