Chestertown’s Fountain Park was packed on Saturday, May 4, for the first-ever Pride event celebrated on the Eastern Shore.
The “Pride in the Park” gathering, which featured speeches, music, and a variety of organizations and vendors, was part of a celebration that extended over the whole weekend and included events in Easton and Cambridge as well as Chestertown. Barbi Bedell, one of the organizers, said that Chestertown Councilman David Foster estimated the crowd at about 300. Welcome mats were placed at each corner of the park to convey the spirit of the occasion.
Claire Hanson, president of the Mid-Shore chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, opened the ceremonies, thanking the many volunteers and supporters for their work and energy before introducing Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino.
Cerino, noting that the participants were “making history” by participating in the first event of its kind on the Shore, expressed his full support. He noted that many of Chestertown’s leading citizens are gays or lesbians, recognizing their significant contributions to the town’s life and institutions. “Discrimination is never OK for any reason,” he said. He expressed a hope that the Pride celebration could become an annual event, boosting the local economy – and urged attendees to patronize the stores in town. Cerino later entertained the crowd with his guitar and original songs.
The next speaker was Heather Mizeur, former Delegate and candidate for Governor and owner of a local farm, who described the gathering as “a love festival.” Expanding on that description, she said that pride requires love of one’s self, with the courage to be confident that we all are part of the divine creation. It also involves love of our choices, she said, adding that she was proud to be part of the community as one of a lesbian couple – “I married up,” she said of her partner, Debra. Finally, there is unconditional love – including love for members of the town council who opposed the Pride festival, and others “who struggle to love us.” Mizeur said she looks forward to an era “when there is no more coming out.” She thanked the attendees for showing pride and love, and expressed hope that everyone would have fun.
Drag queen Marti Cummings, a Kennedyville native now living in New York, recalled his grandmother talking about painting the statue in Fountain Park. He thanked the organizers for their support of inclusion and equality. He recalled being told “you’re a monster, you’re disgusting,” turning the remarks around by saying he could now be disgusting with his “family.” “The truth is, we’re not disgusting. Look at the person next to you – that’s your family,” he said. Noting the high proportion of young people in the gathering, he said, “this is the future of our county.” He finished by urging the young to run for office, noting that he had recently filed his papers as a candidate for New York’s city council.
After the speeches, the Front Porch Orchestra from Easton provided musical entertainment, opening with the disco anthem, “I’m Coming Out.”
In addition to Cummings, three drag queens from New York were present in Fountain Park. They and three Broadway performers gave a show at Washington College that evening, sponsored by the college’s EROS chapter. Bedell said the event drew a full crowd.
Other events over the weekend included “Paint with Pride” Thursday evening at Kiln Born Creations in Easton, which drew 40 participant; a comedy show, “Call from the GAZE,” by the Graveyard Goonz, Friday evening, which filled the Eastern Shore Conservation Center in Easton; and a Drag Brunch Sunday afternoon in Cambridge. All ticketed events were sold out, said Bedell.
Among the organizations with booths at the festival were the National Music Festival, the Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River, YMCA Camp Tockwogh, PFLAG, Trans Healthcon Maryland, the Harford County Health Department, Kent-Queen Anne’s Indivisible, the Maryland LGBT Chamber of Commerce, MidShore Behavioral Health, Free State Justice, and For All Seasons.
Bedell expressed special thanks to all the committee members, including Hanson, Jim Bogden, Lynn Brennan (who organized the Drag Brunch), Tori Pack and Jazmin Gibson (who organized Paint with Pride and the comedy show – and who were married the following weekend), Michele Drostin, who organized a Pride presence at the Easton Multicultural Festival Saturday morning; and about 20 others who helped make the weekend a success.
The festival went off smoothly without disturbances or protests, Bedell said. Plans are already underway for a second Pride festival next year.