As we enter the final stretch of Pride Month, LGBTQ+ Ohioans continue to break barriers all over the state hosting inaugural Pride events where no rainbow flags have ever flown before.
With only a few days left in June, the First Annual Defiance Pride Walk will be Saturday, June 25.
Defiance sits at the northwest corner of the state, the county seat of the staunchly conservative Defiance County where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 2-to-1. The city’s striking name is derived from Fort Defiance, about which Charles Scott—during the Northwest Indian War in 1794—famously said, “I defy the English, Indians, and all the devils of hell to take it.”
Hundreds of years later, that spirit of—dare we say—defiance persists as a core group of LGBTQ+ residents have come together to organize the city’s first official Pride Walk in a community that is not always so welcoming to its LGBTQ+ citizenry.
Defiance Pride Walk organizer Robb Shaffer spoke to The Buckeye Flame about the pride he has in his local LGBTQ+ community and why he was determined that the city of Defiance celebrates the beauty in being uniquely you.
There have been Pride celebrations in Defiance previously, but how did this Pride Walk come about?
I can’t say there were just one or two reasons why I wanted to do a Pride Walk, but the biggest was to bring awareness to the inequality that people in the LGBTQ+ community face. An event happened to me over the holidays that opened my eyes to the injustices that occur. It was unpleasant and uncomfortable and changed my life.
I have also been told awful stories about things that have been done “in the name of Jesus” and wanted to create space for a better experience to happen.
I’m so sorry! Can you tell our readers about Defiance and is that what it’s typically like?
Defiance is a little town in Northwest Ohio that is dominated by Trump, guns, and God, often in that order, and it’s not good if you don’t fit in. If you’re different, you’re shunned, harassed, and discriminated against.
Overall, it is a backward and very sheltered small town. It is a Christian conservative area with no diversity. I’m not someone who gets into politics but it’s everywhere there.
Why a Pride Walk versus a march or a parade?
The visitor’s bureau in Defiance stressed that we try and keep it as simple as possible since it takes a few years for an event to catch on. When I was researching how to do this, I reached out to several cities nearby and found we weren’t ready for a parade.
There will be a small gathering after the walk so people can receive information from various health groups and social organizations. Our partners there will have resources specifically for anyone who is LGBTQ+. We’ll start at the walk at St. John United Church of Christ.
In a very religious town, you’ve decided to start the walk at a church. What led to this decision?
I chose [that starting point] because it is a church that is very open and affirming. No matter where you are on your journey, they will accept you for you. Whoever you walk in and tell them you are, they will love you.
The minister, James Brehler, is one of the godliest men I’ve ever met. After the event that happened over the holidays forced me to move, he was instrumental in helping me find a new church that was just as nonjudgmental as his.
Do you have any advice for those looking to put together a Pride celebration for the first time?
Yes. Start small and expect that as you build it, folks will catch on and they will come. Also, understand that there’s a lot more to planning than having some streets blocked off and walking around for a couple of hours. <laughs>
Finally, remember your why. We’re expecting protests, but our goal is to get as many there as possible for all the right reasons and drown them out.
- Learn more about County Line Pride by visiting their Facebook event page.
- Check out the more than 80(!) events listed in our 2022 Ohio LGBTQ+ Pride Guide.
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