Image Credit: Ted Eytan / CC
The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
One of the first events at the Blount Pride Festival on Saturday is a Rainbow and Drag Queen storytime on the main stage, followed later by “educational and connection-building activities” led by a local high school teacher according to Ari Baker who is on the Blount Pride steering committee.
The city of Maryville sees the return of the Blount Pride Festival after a two year hiatus on Saturday, July 30th. Billed as a celebration and “big ol’ party” the downtown event being held in centrally located Jack Greene Park is being touted as “family friendly” with activities for children and teens all day long.
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Organizers say, “Not only do we welcome kids, we’re working to make this a safe, friendly, affirming space for all children.”
Among other “child friendly” activities, attendees can make “encouragement cards” for the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs at local high schools in Blount County, and teens can participate in “Intro to Queer History” as well as an event entitled “Shadows of Ourselves: Imitating the Art of J.R. Mounts” led by a local GSA sponsor, intended for young people to “discover who they are and who they would like to be through artistic expression.”
Several performers are scheduled, these include Grady Milligan, Kukuly and the Fuego, Drag Queen Tyra Von Shade, a Knoxville-based electro pop artist, and a “nonbinary rising star in the alt-country world.”
Pride events have been steadily growing in East Tennessee since first being observed in Knoxville in 2006. Blount Pride held its first event in 2019 at The Bird and the Book on East Broadway in Maryville. This year’s event is only the second time that the festival has been organized due to COVID-19 restrictions over the last two years.
Blount Pride is partnered with Foothills Unitarian Universalist Church, Southland Books and Café, Knox Pride and Appalachian OUTreach, Appalachian Community Fund as a fiscal sponsor.
Baker said, “Our committee was intentional that our event includes activities for youth, since they are arguably the most vulnerable members of our community. LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. LGBTQ youth are 120 percent more likely to experience homelessness.”
According to Baker, a number of foster agencies intend to set up tables at the event because it is difficult to find “affirming placements” for LGBTQ youth.
Steering committee member Shannon Bryant said that the city of Maryville has arranged for a designated area for protesters with their own parking, away from festival attendees in an effort to minimize any potential conflicts.
Even though Blount County is conservative, less than a dozen protested in 2019 and organizers of this year’s festival don’t expect many demonstrators. Bryant said that “dozens of supporters” drove by the event in 2019 who “honked in affirmation and gestured with upturned thumbs, which was an encouraging sign of the acceptance by the majority of Blount Countians.”
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at firstname.lastname@example.org.