Sometimes change starts with just one person raising their hand.
Such was the case at a Canton LGBTQ+ happy hour in the spring of 2021. When conversation turned to ideas to create more LGBTQ+ community there in Stark County, local resident T.J. Horwood found himself with his hand in the air.
“I said ‘Stark County should have a Pride’ or something and suddenly I was the founder and festival chair,” Horwood laughed.
Located in northeast Ohio, Stark County is regarded as a political bellwether, with the votes of the residents often predicting presidential outcomes. This foretelling proved unreliable in 2020 when the county voted overwhelmingly in the red, casting 20% more votes for Donald Trump than for Joe Biden. Down the ticket, Stark County Republicans demolished Democrats in other races.
Given their conservative leanings, a sense of LGBTQ+ community is unsurprisingly not always the easiest to identify in Stark County.
“I would describe the LGBTQ+ community here as diffuse,” Horwood said. “When there are opportunities for people to come together, they show up. But they’re not always easy to find day to day.”
Some Stark County residents had attempted to organize a first Pride celebration in 2020, but the pandemic sidelined those efforts.
For 2022, the Pride Committee came together in force, with representation across the community—community organizers, business executives, civic leaders, etc—all in an effort to throw this inaugural event on June 11 from 3pm to 10pm.
The venue for Stark Pride Festival is Canton’s Centennial Plaza, the recently completed downtown destination. This central location helps Horwood and the rest of the Pride planning committee achieve one of their main goals: visibility.
“We’re in this stunning new facility and have the great support of the city of Canton, the Visitor’s Bureau, ArtsinStark, businesses, churches, health organizations, and so many more,” Horwood explained. “Given all that, I am most excited about the visibility of Stark Pride Festival.”
Pride festival attendees can expect a full-on music festival with bands, DJ’s, solo artists, and drag performers. And there will be fun for the whole family including a library bookmobile, face-painting, and a bubble guy.
As for the goals embedded in this first Pride, Horwood said that he hopes it is an annual event and that the festivities spark opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community to work together all year round.
“We want to keep this unity aspect moving forward and help build even more community throughout the year,” Horwood said.
It’s already already looking like there is far more than one hand raised to create Pride in Stark County. 🔥