Sunday, June 28, 2020

Inaugural LGBTQ+ Festival Advocates Unity, Tolerance, Inclusion, Peace, and Love

While wearing their pride colors and carrying rainbow flags, hundreds of people visited Pottsville Lions Club Amphitheater at Gen. George A. Joulwan East Side Park on Saturday for the Inaugural LGBTQ+ Festival.

Within a two week period, organizers were able to plan and hold an event that met the qualifications required due to the "Green" COVID-19 pandemic and allow hundreds to attend to advocate, celebrate, and learn about the LGBTQ+ community.

As people entered the event, security counted and limited the number to 250 people inside the park.  Once that limit was reached, additional attendees were required to wait until someone else exited before another could enter. 

Mikaela Gavaletz, of Pottsville, the director of the event, starting planning only two weeks prior in hopes to bring the community together and be entertained.

"The people that I know here in Schuylkill County pointed me in the right direction of the people I needed to talk to and the City [of Pottsville], was more than welcoming and ready for this." said Gavaletz.

Gavaletz said the message for the entire event was "Unity, Tolerance, and Inclusion".

The event included keynote speakers and entertainers from Schuylkill County and the surrounding counties.

Keynote speakers included Maria Sanelli, a professor from Kutztown University, author, Education Consultant and Director of the Frederick Douglass Institute and Dani Kilcullen, a 14 year old representative speaking on behalf of the Trans Youth Community.

Matt Haslam, a Schuylkill County resident and a strong advocate for LGBTQ+ Community also spoke representing the Powered By Rainbows, The Pennsylvania Equality Project and the Schuylkill County LGBTQ Club.

Haslam spoke on the problems that LGBTQ youth face.

"The fact that our kids have to come to a YouTube channel and to the internet to know they are normal instead of their parents or their schools telling them how loved and accepted they are; that’s a big problem we see first-hand every day"said Haslam.

Haslam also spoke on LGBTQ hate crimes that occur every day across the country and even in Schuylkill County.

"One church in Pine Grove put up a rainbow flag outside their parish just last year. That flag was burned and torn by criminals. It was then replaced and then burned again. So, the church replaced it again in a higher spot to ensure its safety." said Haslam.

Haslam also said more needs to be done in terms reporting hate crimes, " The FBI reports that a majority of things which could be classified as a hate crime, aren’t reported to any office higher than your local police station. And for the hate crimes which are reported, 17.6% of them in 2017 were against LGBTQ people and that percentage has only risen in the 3 years since then."

Haslam said though, he has hope, "LGBTQ people are everywhere but until now, we didn’t celebrate our Pride in Schuylkill County. And after today, we can all say that we were a part of history. And better yet, we’re on the right side of that history."

Between keynote speakers for the event, the over 500 attendees that visited the park throughout the day danced in the rain and were entertained by over a dozen different drag queens and kings that had the crowd dancing right along with them.

Moving beyond Saturday, Gaveletz said she hopes to make it an annual event and also form a non-profit to help the parents of trans youth in the community.

Video of the Festival will be made available through Haslam's YouTube
Photos and Story by J. Reed

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