Beckley Celebrates First Pride Festival

BECKLEY, W.Va (WOAY) – On Saturday, Beckley celebrated Pride Month with its very first Pride Festival downtown.

“So many people here for so many years have been afraid to be themselves, to be authentic.” Danielle Stewart, Beckley Human Rights Commission Chair, said. We are finally getting to provide them with the opportunity to celebrate who they are and just come out and enjoy the sun enjoy the food enjoy everything all while being yourself it’s so important for this whole community.”

Stewart could not think of a better day than Beckley’s first Pride festival to announce her candidacy to be the city’s next mayor in 2020.

“I think Beckley is ready for that. Not just with the ordinance and the picnic here, but I think Beckley’s really at a transition point,” Stewart said.

Food vendors, businesses and organizations all set up at the Beckley Intermodal Gateway to take part in the festival and show support for the LGBTQ community. Live performances and informational sessions were also happening throughout the day. Back in January, a city ordinance was passed allowing the Pride Festival to happen. While this was a monumental day for organizers, they say it has been a long time coming.

“They tried to get the ordinance passed in 2014. And that didn’t go through,” Beckley Pride Board member Amy Stepp said. “This year with the ordinance passing in January and then this is also the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, we just thought this was a great year to really push and get Beckley on the Pride map.”

There was security at the festival and a designated spot for protesters, but they did not arrive until later in the afternoon. The festival was organized by the Beckley Pride Board but also with some help from local churches.

“We are here to remind you that you are absolutely perfectly created as you are and who you hope to be and God wants to be with you every step of the way,” Rev. Susan Claytor from St. Stephens Episcopal Church said in her speech.

Even though this was a first for Beckley, organizers say it’s one step toward a more inclusive city.

“Beckley is ready to move forward and to be inclusive, be a place where people want to live,” Stewart said.

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Anna Saunders is a weekend reporter for WOAY. With a diploma from Princeton Senior High School and a mother from Fayette County, she is no stranger to the area. She received a degree in Media Arts and Design from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia and wanted to return home to start her career as a reporter.