ASHLAND -- Approximately 70 people marched along Main Street during Ashland County’s first documented public pride celebration Saturday, which was organized by 19-year-old Andi McFrederick.
McFrederick sought to give visibility to and show support for Ashland’s LGBTQ+ community through the event, they said.
“I’m hoping that this, first, will start to show people around here that it’s more of a normal thing than we think we see here in Ashland,” McFrederick said, referring to those who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Also, I’m hoping it will encourage future pride events in the area, whether or not those are led by me or someone else.”
Attendees young and old donned rainbow clothing, waved rainbow flags and held signs with messages such as “love is love” and “free mom hugs.” They marched from The Corner Park starting at 1 p.m. and were met with some support in the form of honking from passengers in cars driving by.
“I have complete faith in the next generation to be the ones that change the world, and the fact that it’s all the younger people up front leading this, that gives me hope,” attendee Adam Schulte said.
After attendees marched up and down Main Street twice, they gathered in The Corner Park and passed around a megaphone to share thoughts and coming out stories. Some attendees also came out during the event.
Lydia Wells heard about the march through Pride Club at Ashland High School.
“At school I’ve been called slurs and things before a lot,” said the 15-year-old Wells. “So I’m here to show that I’m proud and I’m not going to hide.”
Wells attended the celebration with her parents, Sarah and Brandon Wells.
Sarah Wells said she came to the event to support her daughter but also to support other children who may not have the support of their parents.
Brandon Wells, who is a member of Ashland’s board of education, echoed Sarah Wells in saying that he attended to support the entire LGBTQ+ community.
“I’m here to show them that I support them and love them, for my kids and my friends' kids, that there’s always somebody here that loves them whether that’s their parents or someone else's,” Brandon Wells said.
All Refuge, a sex-positive, LGBTQIA affirming counseling agency, opened in March 2021, said the agency’s co-owners Kailey Bradley and Stephen Thomas. They said they attended the event to make the community aware of the agency’s mental health resources.
“It’s vitally important that we’re visible as counselors for this population,” Bradley said.
The other organization present, Safe Haven, provides support and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, intimate partner violence and stalking.
Katherine Henderson, underserved population advocate and volunteer coordinator, said Safe Haven regularly attends Mansfield Gay Pride Association’s festival, and when she saw a post about the Ashland event on social media, she emailed McFrederick about setting up a booth.
“We want everyone to know that we serve everybody and we’re here to help no matter who you are,” Henderson said.
Saturday was McFrederick’s first time both organizing and attending a pride event. Others present had previously attended other pride celebrations in Ohio.
Attendee Jessica Weber has regularly attended pride events in Columbus. Weber, who grew up in Ashland, did not think there would ever be a public pride event in Ashland.
“I got that at my first gay pride in Columbus in 1991,” Weber said, referring to a pride flag. “And this is 2021 and this is Ashland’s first pride.”
Month-long pride celebrations in June commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots, a series of confrontations between gay rights activists and police at a gay bar in New York City.