Thousands turned out Sunday afternoon for Lehigh Valley Pride 2022 with a focus on equality and being who you are.
The theme for the event, now in its 29th year, was “Be Loud! Be Proud!” It was organized by the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center and held at the Lehigh Valley Jewish Community Center, 702 N. 22nd St., in Allentown.
Ariel Torres of Bethlehem, associate director of the Lehigh University Pride Center, kicked off the festival as grand marshal, along with Lehigh County Magistrate Judge Linda Vega. The Philadelphia Freedom Marching Band followed in procession as Grand Marshals greeted the crowd.
Afterwards, Torres performed Beyonce’s “I was Here” in her drag persona, “Elektra Fearce St. James”.
“The vision for today’s festival is for everyone to be seen and heard,” Torres said.
Representatives of the LGBTQ+ community and their supporters displayed their pride with even more performers, musicians and performers spread across multiple stages and tents. Attendees were all decked out in rainbows, holding flags and adorning T-shirts, declaring phrases such as ‘Love is love’ and ‘Be strong, be proud, be you’ .
There were over 150 vendors and exhibitors. Booths were set up for non-profit organizations, educational centers, religious organizations, area politicians and social justice organizations, as well as community and civic groups. There were free health services, including COVID-19 vaccines. There was a PPL Artist Walk, featuring LGBTQ+ artists and artisans. The official festival mural, designed by artist Emily Fowler and related to the theme of the event, was displayed alongside the boardwalk.
The children participated in the Crayola Kids Space, which included crafts and a Drag Queen story hour. Teenagers flocked to the “Just Born Teen Space,” which included painting, henna and face painting sessions, and a Pride outfit contest. A MARS Sober Social Space offered garden games and activities for all ages. Ferrous and FeFe, mascots of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs; and meLVin, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms mascot, walked the field.
Guests enjoyed food and drink at the Allentown Fairground Farmer’s Market food court. A Samuel Adams “Love Conquers Ale” Pride pub offered a variety of liquor and specialty drinks, including Samuel Adams “Love Conquers Ale”.
As he queued for concessions, Jay Valez of Whitehall, who identifies as straight, said he felt welcome.
“All I feel is a big ball of happiness here,” said Valez, who brought his girlfriend, Julie Otero from Allentown.
Allentown’s Kelly Ratliffe, who came with her fiancé and Valez, said she’s been attending the festival for a decade for new friendships.
“I come every year, it’s always a good time,” she said.
New this year was a designated dog park, a chill station for attendees, and a paid meet and greet with various headliners. Headliners included former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants Ra’Jah O’Hara and Alyssa Hunter, as well as musicians Ryan Cassata and D’Neah Allen. Several local drag artists also performed, having secured their spot in the center’s first-ever Drag Battle Royale. An American sign language interpreter was stationed on the main stage throughout the day.
Allentown’s Eric Yoak, major events manager at the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, said the Pride Festival has grown tremendously since its inception in 1993 at the city’s Cedar Beach Park. It started as a small community gathering focused on the fight for equality before morphing into a vibrant arts and cultural celebration, bringing together up to 3,000 guests a year.
Pride month has also grown. The month-long celebration of the LGBTQ+ community began to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969. It has been redesigned to honor the many activists and community members who continue to fight for equality for the LGBTQ+ community.
Holding Lehigh Valley Pride in August also helps with attendance, as it doesn’t compete with the larger Pride events in New York and Philadelphia, which are usually held in June.
“More come to us every year and it’s just grown and got bigger and bigger,” York said.
Sean Montross from Pen Argyl brought his dog, ‘Budge’, and his wife, Cathy Montross, for the second time. Sean Montross said he wanted to return because of the heat he felt at this type of festival.
“When I walk in here it’s like love,” he said. “It’s so welcoming. I feel like I’m in a big family when I don’t know anyone.
Lisa Morris of Allentown, who brought her grandson and two daughters, didn’t know much about the festival when she saw an advertisement for it in a football programme. She said she immediately felt comfortable walking through the door.
“It’s all different people here who are proud of who they are,” she said. “Everyone is very loving and generous. I think we needed that after everything we’ve been through (County). Everyone is on the same page about everything.
Sunday’s event followed other pre-festival activities, including Allentown Aug. 16 raising its Pride Flag at City Hall, 435 Hamilton St.; and a Drag Brunch held August 14 at Sports & Social in Allentown.
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Pamela Sroka-Holzmann can be contacted at [email protected].