The 14th annual Lexington Pride Festival returned downtown Saturday after a two-year hiatus. This year’s festival was home to over 150 vendors, live entertainment and thousands of people.
The festival spanned from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. around the Robert F. Stephens Courtyard Plaza. There were two stages on either side of the festival featuring drag shows, DJs and live musicians throughout the day.
This year’s festival fell one day after a monumental Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, leading to abortion being declared illegal in Kentucky. Many festival-goers expressed grief over the decision.
“We decided to come out and show our support, especially because of yesterday’s rulings and the things that are projected to come from that,” said John Wesley of Somerset.
Wesley and his partner said they came to the festival to stand with the community.
The executive director of Lexington Pride Festival, Carmen Wampler-Collins, released a letter after the Supreme Court decision.
“While this may change the tone of the festival we had planned, we want to remind you all that in addition to being a celebration, Pride is a protest,” Wampler-Collins said on the Pride website. “We encourage you to attend Lexington Pride Festival, so we can be together as a community in processing this decision that impacts all of us.”
For many, the festival gives hope each year.
“When you have an environment like this, where they can see that there are people in the world who love and accept them for who they are, it is life-changing to them,” said Robin Parker, Kentucky chapter leader for Free Mom Hugs. “Pride is hope for the future.”
Free Mom Hugs is a national non-profit organization that provides resources to LGBTQIA+ youth.
A line of people formed in front of the courthouse, each waiting for a hug from one of the volunteers wearing a shirt that read, “Free Mom Hugs.”
Parker said festivals like this one are especially important for LGBTQIA+ youth. “Self-harm, suicidal ideation, and mental illness related to societal rejection or church rejection. The statistics are pretty dismal.”
According to The Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQIA+ youth considered suicide within the past year.
“All they see is hate directed toward them in the media, the church and everywhere else,” Parker said. “But there are great organizations out there that show up at Pride and support the community.”
Alexis Butler, 26, said she came to voice her support.
“A lot of people are silenced,” she said.
Her husband, Charles Butler, said he has been a victim of violence due to being pansexual.
“It’s sad to say, but we’re killed, beaten up or cast out every year just because we’re not Christian, straight, white people,” he said. “I’ve been bullied. I’ve been jumped. I’ve had a knife put to my throat. There needs to be a change yesterday.”