A first for Winchester: Pride and Inclusion Fest!

Andi Stephenson and Tiff Hays have made a fun­da­men­tal deci­sion about Winchester, the town they both grew up in. While it’s a great com­mu­ni­ty and a won­der­ful place in which to grow up and live, it could be more sup­port­ive and affirm­ing of its mar­gin­al­ized communities. 

I first heard about these two young women from Facebook when look­ing into the upcom­ing Winchester Pride and Inclusion Fest. I arranged to meet with them on a Saturday morn­ing at The Hall Coffee & Social Club on Main Street.

(If you’ll par­don the aside, The Hall is a great place to enjoy some good cof­fee and a bite for break­fast or lunch. And a won­der­ful place to social­ize with friends. You real­ly should check it out if you aren’t already a patron.)

“Andi and I have been friends for a long time,” says Tiff. “One day, I saw Andi post on Facebook that she want­ed to start a schol­ar­ship for an LGBTQ+ grad­u­at­ing GRC stu­dent. Many peo­ple move away from small towns when they’re not in a safe space. If they don’t per­ceive Winchester as a safe town, they will go to big­ger cities like Lexington, with more resources. The schol­ar­ship was to incen­tivize a young per­son to go to col­lege and then come back here and con­tin­ue to help make Winchester a safe place for everybody.”

So Tiff and Andi found­ed ProudTown, Inc., a Winchester non­prof­it that sup­ports the schol­ar­ship and does oth­er work to help queer folks in the area. They helped pro­mote the “Y’all Ball” host­ed in June by Brack Duncan. They have held online events, cre­at­ed and sold T‑shirts, and host­ed a series of Pride Project videos on their web­site where local LGBTQ+ peo­ple have shared their sto­ries. They have also held small events called Coffeetalks, where they have gath­ered with allies and mem­bers of the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty to con­verse and form infor­mal sup­port networks.

And now, they are gear­ing up for their most ambi­tious project yet: Winchester’s very first Pride and Inclusion Fest, to be held on Oct. 21. 

Andi was the first to see the need for a Pride festival. 

“There’s already lim­it­ed resources for inter­sec­tion­al iden­ti­ties,” she says. “And when we got start­ed with ProudTown, we asked about what those peo­ple saw as a need and how we could fill those gaps. One of the things that kept com­ing up was Winchester doesn’t have a Pride Fest. So we start­ed look­ing into how we could do that.”

Andi and Tiff are also work­ing with anoth­er Winchester native, Cody Cox Kessler, on the event. 

“Cody is also from Winchester,” says Andi. “We all were in the grad­u­at­ing class of 2013 from GRC. Cody even­tu­al­ly moved to Colorado, so he helps in the back­ground. But he is a board mem­ber of Proud Town as well.”

Andi and Tiff became very ani­mat­ed when I asked them to talk about the fes­ti­val. It’s clear they are excit­ed about the event. 

“We have 19 ven­dors lined up,” Tiff begins. “We have food, we have com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions — some­thing that was real­ly impor­tant to us. We want­ed to make sure that there were many com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions and a lot of LGBTQ+ plus orgs so peo­ple in our com­mu­ni­ty who didn’t know about them could learn about them and connect.”

In addi­tion to the food ven­dors and sup­port orga­ni­za­tions, there will be enter­tain­ment. A singer-song­writer will be per­form­ing, as well as a fire dancer. There will be an inflat­able for young chil­dren as well as face painting. 

“It’s impor­tant to us to have fam­i­ly-friend­ly things to do and see,” Tiff con­tin­ues. “There are queer fam­i­lies in Winchester, and I think many peo­ple don’t real­ize they have chil­dren too.”

Andi empha­sized that every­one is wel­come and hopes to see fam­i­lies of all types enjoy­ing the activ­i­ties together. 

“The inclu­sion part of the title was impor­tant to us. Because it is for every­one, and the whole pur­pose of Proud Town is to show that this com­mu­ni­ty is for every­one, that we can all coex­ist peace­ful­ly and respect each oth­er. Show every­one love and that they’re welcome.”

As if all this weren’t enough, anoth­er fea­ture of the event is free health screenings. 

Says Tiff, “We are work­ing hard to make sure that there are rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the men­tal and phys­i­cal health treat­ment com­mu­ni­ties. And Ryan Shelton from Philanthro.PT is going to be doing free health screenings.” 

Andi went on to describe anoth­er fea­ture of the festival.

“We will present the Pride and Inclusion Star Award. It’s an award to rec­og­nize some­one in the com­mu­ni­ty as a strong advo­cate and ally of the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty. Someone who is real­ly push­ing for progress in the com­mu­ni­ty. And we’ve got­ten a lot of nominations!”

This is Winchester’s first such fes­ti­val, and it’s the first attempt by the orga­niz­ers to pull off such an event. So, what would suc­cess look like?

“I hope it’s well attend­ed and that there’s high engage­ment and pos­i­tive engage­ment,” says Andi. “That the buzz is that Winchester is a com­mu­ni­ty for every­one. That Winchester is safe for any­one and every­one and that Winchester isn’t just wel­com­ing but affirm­ing. There’s a dif­fer­ence! And that you don’t have to go to Lexington or far­ther to be rep­re­sent­ed, to be vis­i­ble, or to find resources that you need.”

Tiff adds, “I think suc­cess would look like pure kind­ness, accep­tance, and affir­ma­tion of all peo­ple who attend. That peo­ple will con­nect with oth­ers and see that there are oth­er queer peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty, so they can build friend­ships and bonds that will hope­ful­ly be per­pet­u­al. That queer peo­ple will be able to see queer people.”

The Winchester Pride and Inclusion Fest host­ed by ProudTown, Inc. will take place on Saturday, Oct. 21, from noon to 6 p.m. on Depot Street in down­town Winchester. 

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