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How My Hometown Made Me Proud This Pride Month

Galesburg Pride picnic

A Pride picnic in Galesburg, Ill., shows that LGBTQ people have made progress in small towns as well as big cities, writes Advocate copy chief and Galesburg native Trudy Ring.

trudestress

There was a lot to be proud of this past LGBTQ Pride Month. The 50th anniversary of Stonewall and how far we've come since then -- and the respectful media coverage of the anniversary and even a Senate resolution honoring it. A movement that continues standing up against the depredations of Donald Trump and his minions. New York City hosting WorldPride, one of many Pride celebrations large and small around the globe.

But what made me proudest was one of those small Pride celebrations, which was a pretty big deal in the town that hosted it -- Galesburg, Ill., where I grew up.

Galesburg is a town of about 30,000 people in west-central Illinois. The population was about 7,000 more when I was in my teens, before the major factories and the jobs that went with them left for lower-wage areas. It has a small, well-regarded liberal arts college and a claim to fame as the birthplace of the great writer Carl Sandburg.

It's not uniformly conservative; if anything, it's become more liberal due to economic woes, which have made at least some residents realize that unfettered capitalism is not their friend. It's also not uniformly homophobic; I know some really cool, enlightened people who still live there as well as, yes, some real rednecks. But in my formative years, most of the time when I heard the word "gay," it was as part of a derogatory joke, and I know a lot of people who encountered much worse manifestations of homophobia.

I had always craved the excitement and opportunity of big-city life, so I eventually moved to Chicago and then Los Angeles, and I saw large cities as places where everyone could find a place to fit in and celebrate who they are, even though there were pockets of bigotry. Galesburg, on the other hand, was a place with boundaries, with limits -- not a place I ever pictured holding an LGBTQ Pride celebration.

Some Galesburg residents were able to see a different picture. I spoke with one of them, Chris King, the lead organizer of Galesburg's Pride picnic, held in June for the second consecutive year. I hadn't heard about the first year's picnic, but I saw a story about this year's from the local newspaper, The Register-Mail, shared on Facebook. It was a respectful article and even noted that the picnic included a drag queen story hour, something that's drawn protests in much larger communities. I shared it on my Facebook page and received a lot of positive comments. So I decided to contact King and see how this all came about.

Lovetrumpshatex750_0Some citizens send a worthwhile message.

King is a 25-year-old transgender woman who was born in South Carolina but has spent most of her life in Galesburg. "Being trans and growing up in a small town like this, I was always looking for a sense of community," she told me. The closest Pride celebrations were about an hour's drive away -- in Peoria, Ill., or in the Quad Cities, a cluster of towns along the Mississippi River, some in Illinois, some in Iowa. The bigger Pride events required a trip of three or four hours, to Chicago or St. Louis. "I thought, why can't we just have our own Pride?" she said.

She took some inspiration from the LGBTQ young adult group she helped found at her church, First Lutheran, but handled most of the organizing herself. The first picnic, held at Lake Storey, just north of town, drew between 100 and 150 people. This year's, at the same site but with more activities, including the drag queen story hour, attracted 250 attendees.

Dragqueenstoryhourx750Dessert and storytelling at the drag queen story hour.

There has been little community backlash, King said. When The Register-Mail's story went up on its Facebook page, there were some negative comments, but supporters of the event countered with positive ones. Similarly, she has been largely accepted in her own life, having come out as trans three or four years ago, she said.

Still, she's rather amazed by the popularity of the Pride picnic. "I find it exhilarating, in a community like this, that we're able to rally together," she said. "If you'd told me growing up that this would happen, I really wouldn't have believed you. I'm really in shock and awe."

Dragqueenx750A fierce queen brings it.

That's the same reaction I had. I'm from a different (older) generation than King, but we've both seen a lot of change in our lives. Many things have come to pass that I wouldn't have predicted in my growing-up years -- marriage equality, the election of the first African-American president, and yes, a Pride event in my little hometown. I guess the takeaway for both King and me is that when times change, when progress is made, mostly due to people being out and proud, it touches not only the big cities but the small towns. And that Galesburg is demonstrating such progress makes my heart glad; especially at a time when many forces are trying to roll back progress, it gives me hope -- and it makes me proud.

Trudy Ring is The Advocate's copy chief.

trudestress
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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.