by Joan Hellyer
Doylestown Borough warmly welcomed thousands of people to town in June for its inaugural Pride Festival.
The four-day celebration honored the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City.
The riots, also known as the Stonewall Uprising, began on June 28th, 1969 when New York City police raided a gay club called the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.
Bar patrons and local residents joined together to riot over the next six days to protest how police roughly hauled away Stonewall patrons and employees during the raid.
The uprising served as a catalyst for the LGBTQA rights movement both in the United States and around the world.
The festival, coordinated by the non-profit Discover Doylestown, aimed not only to celebrate the rioters accomplishments but also to discuss what still needs to be done in the fight for equal rights for all, organizers said.
It ran from June 20th through June 23rd at different venues throughout the borough.
A major focal point was a block party on Saturday that shut down a few blocks on East State Street between Pine and Main streets in the borough. An estimated 3,000 people joined in the celebration.
“It blew everyone’s mind, even the organizing committee,” Michael DeVellis, one of the organizers, said. “You don’t want to say ‘nice first year,’ you want people to say ‘I can’t believe its the first year.'”
And that is exactly what happened with people from all walks of life mixing and mingling during the celebratory activities.
Congregants with the Salem United Church of Christ were among the many groups and organizations that had tables set up at the block party. The church also hosted a spiritual service on Sunday to celebrate the LGBTQA community.
“As a church we openly welcome folks regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, because we believe all people are created, accepted, and loved by God,” Salem Pastor David Green said. “Our participation at Pride proves that everyone can feel welcomed and valued in a loving church community.”
The celebration also included social mixers and screenings of films geared toward the LGBTQA movement at The County Theater off East State Street.
The festival culminated with the screening at the theater of a documentary about the Stonewall Riots.
More than 100 theatergoers watched intently as members of the gay community who rioted recalled the experience and how they felt when thousands of others joined with them in the protests.
“That is when we knew we were ourselves for the first time,” one rioter said through tears.
Those who attended the screening were moved by the protesters.
“I think it took a lot of bravery and it was a great challenge to come forward,” New Britain Township resident Sarah Gevo said.
Following the documentary presentation, a panel discussion was held in the theater to discuss the Stonewall Uprising impact and the where the LGBTQA movement stands today.
Dr. Audrey Ervin, psychologist and Academic Director of Graduate Counseling Psychology at Delaware Valley University, moderated the discussion. Panelists included Dr. Cyndy Boyd, a psychologist and author from the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Todd Snovel, who serves as Executive Director for the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, and Doylestown Borough Mayor Ron Strouse.
“Amazing gains have been made,” Cyndy said. “I actually didn’t think I would see marriage equality in my lifetime. And I didn’t think there would be transgender rights.” But, she added, “We have a lot more work to do.”
Given that, organizers already are working on plans to make the town’s second annual pride festival even bigger next year, Ron said.
Information about the plans for the upcoming festival will be shared on Discover Doylestown’s social media sites, organizers said.
Salem Church will be a supportive participant again in the 2020 celebration because God desires equal rights for everyone, Pastor Green said.
“It’s important to affirm that human diversity is a good thing, and should be celebrated,” he said. “We need to be reminded that every person’s life is inherently worthy and sacred. Pride specifically affirms the rights, dignity, and the many positive contributions of LGBTQ people to society. But in a larger sense it helps us understand that all people – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity – share the same needs, hopes, and dreams of respect, acceptance, belonging, justice and love.”