LGBTQ+ people and allies who live and work in Fremont have come together to launch a new nonprofit organization and host the city’s first Pride Festival.
Stevie Keck, known as Stevie Phoenix on stage, began hosting drag shows this spring at Fremont’s Da Love Pitt (now Da New Pittstop), a bar in this small city located 35 miles southeast of Toledo. A native of Fremont, Keck was overwhelmed with support for the shows.
Within two days of asking if Fremont residents wanted a Pride Month celebration, a fully formed volunteer nonprofit board, Fremont Pride, was born.
Fremont Pride’s goal is “to provide year-round support to and education about the beautifully diverse LGBTQ+ community in Fremont and the surrounding areas,” according to their website. “We embrace diversity, place priority on activism and lifting up unheard voices, and are here to create a safe space of love and support.”
Organizers of the inaugural Fremont Pride Festival are pulling out all the stops to plan what they hope will be one of the region’s largest and most inclusive Pride events. Fremont Pride is scheduled as an all-day extravaganza from 12:30-9 p.m. July 10 at Walsh Park.
“I knew it was going to be a lot of work in a short amount of time, but it’s so worth it to know that the local queer community in and around Fremont feel loved, represented and celebrated,” Keck said. “Visibility leads to tolerance, which leads to acceptance, which leads to equality. My heart just soars knowing that some people are experiencing this who may not have been able to before.”
Growth and Progress in Sandusky County
Fremont Pride Media Manager Tyler Kneeskern grew up in Tiffin, about 20 miles south of Fremont. He says a local Pride celebration would have made a huge impact on his life.
On Kneeskern’s first day of high school, another student tripped him and threw out a hurtful epithet. When he moved to Chicago to attend college, Kneeskern came out as gay, eventually meeting his first boyfriend. But anti-gay violence is not a small-town phenomenon. Walking down the street holding hands with his partner, the couple was jumped by five men, sending both to the hospital.
“I realized it doesn’t matter if I’m in a small town like Tiffin or the big Windy city, there is hate everywhere,” Kneeskern said. “But that is why Pride celebrations are important – to show the LGBTQ+ community that although you might encounter hate in this world, there is just as much love. And a safe place for you to be yourself.”
Keck, who grew up in “a very religious environment,” did not live authentically as themself as a teen.
“A lot of that was because I didn’t have the support or resources to realize who my authentic self was,” they said. “Even though I wasn’t out and hadn’t come to terms with my gender, I would still get derogatory comments in school and homophobia directed at me.”
Keck said they do not want to water down LGBTQ+ lives and love for the comfort of those living in Fremont today.
“A lot of times people say things like, ‘Be patient and maybe don’t overwhelm people. It’s a very rural area and (people who live there) think differently,’” Keck said. “But I say, we’re all adults and no one needs to be handled with kid gloves! I bring my larger city mentality to the small-town queer community. It’s been an immersive and lovely way to share, advocate and educate. People really are a lot more open-minded than you might think.”
The Big Event
Fremont Pride kicks off at 12:30 p.m. at Walsh Park, with an opening ceremony featuring Fremont Mayor Daniel Sanchez. Entertainment, including draft artists, circus performers, burlesque dancers, fire breathers, singers, bands and more, will kick off at 1 p.m. ASL interpretation for entertainment will be offered from 7-9 p.m.
Equitas Health will offer free, confidential HIV screenings. Additionally, vendors including local businesses, artists and food trucks will be set up, and alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks will be available by purchasing tickets. A Family Fun Zone, including a dunk tank, is planned.
According to board member and vendor liaison Nicole Russell, the response so far has been heartwarming, “I wasn’t personally out as a kid, but I had many friends who were. There was a lot of stigma during that time, and it was difficult to be open and out in the community.”
Organizers said they have experienced an outpouring of support from not only the local LGBTQ+ community, but allies and public officials in Fremont and the surrounding area.
Fremont’s mayor, police department and parks and recreation department have all been supportive and educated the board on better ways to achieve their goals.
“I am so excited to see everyone come and enjoy all the local LGBTQ+ community has to offer,” said Russell. “I am looking forward to seeing how Fremont Pride grows. I hope that the relationships that develop because of Fremont Pride continue to grow.”