In 2011, I marched in my first Pride parade with my church, Broad Street United Methodist. I boldly marched at the front of the group carrying a banner and waiving to the crowds, not caring who saw me because I was finally comfortable with who I was, and I didn’t care who saw me. My primary focus was making sure that banner was visible to anyone and everyone who needed to see it, hoping that, if there was someone else out there in the same place that I was the year before, they would know that there was a safe place for them.
|Me carrying banner for Broad Street UMC in 2011
2011 was also the year that I connected with Equality Ohio, and I was bitten by the activism bug in a whole other arena. I was engaged and ready to make my state, my church, and, if possible, the world a more open and accepting place for all people. Pride changes for you at this point though. It’s still fun. It’s still rewarding, but it also becomes work, exhausting work. When I see and connect with people around the state, it is all so worth it though.
In 2012, Equality Ohio announced that they would be launching the Equality Express, an RV tour throughout the state with a group of interns and a couple of staff to try to make connections with people all over the state. Their first stop after leaving Columbus…my hometown of Zanesville, a small conservative town in southeastern Ohio. There were maybe 30 to 40 people in attendance, a couple of ladies came from the Muskingum County Health Department and offered free HIV testing. I shared that night about my journey and my first experience getting tested. I wanted to have an event that would welcome, the crew of the Equality Express into town and also make people aware of the work that needed to be done to move Ohio forward. I also wanted to create a space where people could meet local HIV testers in an environment where they could feel at ease and understand that they would not be judged based on who they were or who they were involved with sexually.
Also, in 2012, I attended my first Pride festival in Dayton. Dayton is a small city on the western side of Ohio that feels about the same size as Zanesville, and it made me feel like I was looking at what a Zanesville Pride festival would look like. It made me smile, and it gave me hope for where things could go in the future.
In 2013 and 2014, I made it a goal to attend Dayton, Columbus, and Cincinnati Prides, marching with my church when I was in Columbus and with Equality Ohio when I was in Dayton and Cincinnati. For me, Pride has always been less about partying and more about messaging, the getting the word out about whatever organization and/or cause I am representing in that moment
This year, in 2015, I attended Dayton Pride and marched with AIDS Resource Center (A.R.C.) Ohio to help promote PrEP, an HIV prevention pill that I recently began taking. I was honored this year to also be able to go with A.R.C. Ohio to the first ever Pride festival in Springfield, Ohio. It was exciting to see a new festival born in another small Ohio town. It’s real evidence that things are moving forward. Then, of course, I marched in a very wet Columbus Pride parade and, sadly, the festival in Goodale Park ended up having to be canceled only a couple of hours into the event. Towards the end of June, I traveled down to Cincinnati for their Pride and stayed over to attend my former pastor’s church, Clifton United Methodist. Then, I enjoyed an afternoon and evening at King’s Island on my way back to Columbus.
The very next day, a local group in Zanesville was formed, and they are already planning to have an organizational meeting to begin doing this work. I am so excited to see where things go from here. For now though, I am most thankful to be getting a chance to take a bit of a breather. So looking forward to this weekend. With marriage equality being the law of the land, I think Independence Day is going to feel an little extra special this year!
© Joshua Culbertson 2015