On June 30, 2018 the Portsmouth Welcoming Community, a Community of Christ congregation, hosted the Portsmouth Pride Festival. The pride festival was the first of its kind in the area and surrounding region. Portsmouth is a small town and it is more traditional in it’s way of life and hasn’t been too welcoming to those in the LGBTQIA+ community. We felt that the festival would allow Community of Christ to break the barriers that religion often places between people and allow us to publicly express our love and solidarity with those who are LGBTQIA+. Our goal was to take a public stance and let the community know that there is a church in our community that will fully welcome, embrace and include those in the LGBTQIA+ community. I think that society does a good job of marginalizing people who they consider to be different. If you are in the LGBTQIA+ community you may have grown up your whole life hearing negative and damaging things being said by others; often by the ones you love. You may feel unloved and unwanted because of hearing such things. People tend to be forced to hide in the shadows and fake their way through life, not living authentically as who they truly are. We wanted this event to be a loud and clear message to those people that we are here, and we will stand with you.
What was planned to be a small gathering of 20-30 people ended up being a large event with over 500 people in attendance. Several organizations attended to set up booths and speakers traveled from hours away to speak! It was a massive undertaking in the short three weeks that we had to plan once we’d seen that interest grew daily in the Portsmouth community. People who were in attendance expressed their gratitude for hosting Pride in this community and stated that “it has been a long time coming!” One couple even expressed that for the first time in their 20-year relationship, they were comfortable enough to walk around holding hands in public in this community. We didn’t have a clue as to how the community would respond to this. We received negative and condemning messages and even threats of death and physical violence, but the event itself was filled with a spirit of love and positivity. I truly think that this was transformative to our community. I think barriers that have been built so high have been greatly diminished, if not destroyed. LGBTQIA+ people have found a voice and a platform to use that voice. They have shed light in the shadows of society where they have been forced to hide. They have been given a community that will publicly embrace our diversity and express the worth of all people. It is organizations like GALA and Community of Christ that help break these barriers and give people the strength and courage to face a world often designed against them. Our community has been transformed. May we continue to work together to change the world!