Having to drive to Birmingham, Pensacola or Atlanta to be around people that celebrate who they are is becoming a drag for many members of the Auburn LGBTQ community. Auburn's own Pride on the Plains is working to bring the celebration home.
A board of four Auburn residents has banded together to organize Pride events and gather support for the gay community. Pride on the Plains has been together for about a month now, according to their website.
"We've had a drag show [in Auburn] for eight years now," said Chad Peacock, president of Pride on the Plains. "There is a gay population here and it's a large population and it's time for them to step forward. This is long overdue and it's time for us to celebrate who we are."
Peacock said he believes the time it took to finally have an organization and celebration of this nature is due to the level of readiness in the community.
"I don't think that this hasn't wanted to happen, I just think that there are a lot of people who are either intimidated by the idea of it happening or not thinking this town is ready for it to happen and worrying about how it would be received," Peacock said.
Peacock said there hasn't been anyone to stand their ground and say, "This will happen."
Peacock saw the need for a celebration and reached out to the other members of the board for assistance in starting an organization. Peacock said ever since he sent those first messages, it's been "gangbusters."
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Secretary Julio Yanes said he was surprised at how smooth operations have gone so far. Yanes said the "energetic board" has made quick progress in spreading the word and gaining support.
Yanes moved to Auburn about two years ago from Florida and sees the situation and the need for Pride on the Plains from an outsider's perspective. He said in larger cities there is usually some form of resource or organization for the LGBT community.
"There is nothing in Auburn by way of a professional organization or a county-funded organization that supports the LGBT community," Yanes said.
Yanes said Spectrum, Auburn University's student-run gay-straight alliance organization, offers an environment for students, but at the moment there is nothing for those not attending school.
"This is a grassroots effort," Yanes said.
The group has held their first benefit drag show, where proceeds went to Pride on the Plains. Treasurer Seth McCollough said the group raised a total of $600.
"We've had a lot of community support with people saying, 'I can't believe how long it's taken for this to actually happen' or people expressing their want to help," Yanes said.
Yanes said he expects there to be backlash along the way, as there is with practically any community group, but he is happily surprised at the support the board members have received in their efforts so far.
McCollough said they are in the process of getting paperwork in order to be an official organization and following their verification, they will be able to plan benefits, festivals and events in the Auburn area.
"We want to bring the community together as a whole — unite everyone as a whole — gay, straight, allies. You name it," McCollough said.
Vice President Shuji Miller said the main idea is to create a week-long festive where the community can showcase themselves through vendors set up at the events, talents portrayed for the community to see and a parade that brings all elements together in a festive nature.
"We are present in the Auburn community and this is not a one-time event," Miller said. "We are planning and preparing this event to be something we hold for every year to come."
Miller said they would like their event to mirror Atlanta's Pride to a degree, but represent the unique culture of Auburn. Pride of the Plains will be partnering with whatever organizations, businesses and surrounding Pride groups.
"Diversity isn't a bad thing and we can all come together, love each other and have fun," McCollough said. "I feel like that is what is going to come out of this. We will all know we are there for each other."
Miller said without a community organization letting struggling members of the LGBTQ community know they are loved and welcome, it's difficult to grow up and be confident.
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