KRNL set up a mobile photo studio at the 2022 Lexington Pride Festival to highlight queer voices in the local LGBTQ+ community. Our pride piece is a reflection of KRNL values which aim to promote inclusivity and diversity at the University of Kentucky and in Lexington.
With a lion’s head backpack, glitter decorating their naked chest and a white tank with cut-off blue jeans as an attempt to cool down in the dreadful heat, Brian Neal and their pack of friends share a similar fashion and reason for being together. “Pride is love,” Neal said.
At the end of every June, Lexington hosts the annual Pride Festival at the Courthouse on North Limestone. On this beautiful yet sweltering day, there is a moment when it seems that all of Lexington has come together in celebration. The local businesses and small vendors are filled to the brim with customers clamoring to quench their thirst and hunger with wine and tacos, and singers and dancers are performing on a stage that overlooks the entire festival. In their small groups, the people of Pride chatter amongst themselves, playing music on the sweet summer grass and laughing while kissing each other's open mouths.
People at Pride felt a sense of freedom, and a true, genuine one, that allowed for playing guitar on the grass or walking bare-chested in the street without the worry of being asked to cover up in modesty and leave in shame. With wild hair, sweaty bodies, and glittery faces, they were a community that wanted to share their stories.
Jay Johnson, sitting on the grass next to their cousin, was new to the Lexington queer scene and was surprised at the festival’s turnout compared to what they have experienced in their hometown.
"In Henderson, people ask for your pronouns in a sarcastic way. They make fun of you, whereas here in Lexington, people are genuine. They really want to know,” Johnson said.
Myann Davidson, a young straight woman wearing a matching yellow crop top and skirt set, shed some light on why Pride is so well-attended in Lexington.
"It depends on which part of town you are in, but there is a united queer community,” she said. “Nobody wants to be left out, so they all include each other within themselves. Pride is including everyone, making everyone feel like they have a purpose, and making everyone feel loved. Everything is a spectrum, and Pride makes them aware that they don't have to conform to what someone else tells them to do."
Neisha Hunter made a point that she also enjoys the event as a straight and cis-gender woman.
"Pride is a celebration! For me, celebration from afar, I want to share this space, but I understand this a safe space that is not directly made for me, but it still is accepting of me, and that is what pride is all about,” Hunter said.
Pride is a reflection of the queer community in Lexington, said Burley Thomas, office manager for the Lexington Pride Center. Thomas said that LGBTQ+ people are part of the Lexington’s overall scene, not just the Pride celebration, something he has noticed while working at the center.
“We have disability groups that are queer-focused, anti-racist groups that are queer-focused, outreach groups that are queer-focused, and we facilitate space for queer groups looking for a space to share a space,” he said.
Thomas said that he can see this attitude taking hold in other communities, albeit more slowly.
"I'm from Harlan, and it's not somewhere I think of accepting or supporting, but they had their first Pride parade today. We don't even have that!" he said. "And I'm sure it was 50 people, but courageous people who demanded space."
Thomas said this can strengthen queer communities so they don’t rely on Pride Centers to exist.
"We have queer musical festivals, open bars here in town, queer art shows, downtown is very queer eccentric. There is queer space."
Lavender Black walked around Pride with platinum purple highlighted hair and a purple bodysuit to match, and said it was nice to be able to be herself.
"I am from Greenup, and there is barely any diversity there,” Black said. “When I first came out, I didn't have anybody to talk to, and here in Lexington, I can be myself. We shape our reality. In the last 50 years, we have come so far in gender expression—not just in Lexington, all over.” She looked around her with open arms, gesturing to everyone passing by. "I can go outside and see a guy in makeup, and I can see myself in him."
Young attendees of Pride spoke of the older generation needing to catch up to the times.
"As much as we respect our parents, we could definitely educate them more about contemporary issues. They need to be responsible and more aware of what has changed, what is different from when they were growing up," said Joseph Stuart, who was wearing holographic sunglasses while he bobbed his head to the music, surrounded by his friends.
Kelly King, former Lexington Pride Festival board member and coordinator, said sometimes Pride events and gatherings of like-minded people can be comforting for those whose family just doesn’t understand.
"Pride is community. Pride is friends. I have friends that are closer than my own blood. That is just the way it is. Just because they are your blood, doesn't mean they are necessarily the best part of your family,” King said.
Having friends and a shared experience doesn't necessarily make people the same. Nick Miller sat on a communal white couch, watching a musical duo’s acoustic performance. His arm was wrapped around his ex-boyfriend, Sean Ayer, who swayed his head to the music.
"We are many common people in a diverse group, and it is a demanding thing to try and pigeon hole into one person to speak for all of us," Miller said.
Ayer had a similar philosophy. "That's why we are queer. That doesn't make us different; that just makes us our own person. We are not trying to push it on other people,” he said. “If you accept me, then I love you; if you don't, I hope we will meet at another time when you do."