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A spirit that is not afraid

Annual PrideFest brings hundreds to Kiesel Park

<p>Vendors and attendees gather at PrideFest at Kiesel Park on June 5, 2021, in Auburn, Ala.</p>

Vendors and attendees gather at PrideFest at Kiesel Park on June 5, 2021, in Auburn, Ala.

If you were in the right place in Auburn on Saturday, you could see hundreds of rainbows after the storm passed.

Pride on The Plains held its first PrideFest since 2019 on Saturday. The festival went from noon until 6 p.m. in Kiesel Park, and close to 1,000 people showed up, according to Chris Landry, secretary of Pride on The Plains.

Seth McCollough, president of Pride on The Plains, said he wanted the event to not only be a celebration of Pride month but to help make the Auburn community more accepting in the future.

“The whole point of Pride in my vision is to be visible to the whole community,” McCollough said. “From the festival here, that radiates out into the community, and then the community becomes more accepting and people are more accepting of gay, lesbian, transgender individuals.”

Many attendees wore rainbow colored shirts or socks, painted rainbows on their faces or draped themselves in LGBTQ pride flags. They sat on the grass near the stage to watch the day's slate of performances and speakers or walked through the maze of tents, picking up pamphlets, having conversations or buying T-shirts or coffee.

When it started to rain at 1:30, many moved to the covered gazebo, while others, mostly young people, chose to stay and dance in the rain.

“My favorite part is watching the kids enjoy themselves, because when I was young I didn’t have a space that I could just be out and open and queer unapologetically, and this gives them that space,” McCullough said. “It just makes me happy to see kids laughing and dancing and being themselves. It really does.”

The event featured several shows from drag performers such as Cora Bleu and Jiggly Caliente, who appeared on the fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and plays Veronica on the television series Pose.

Nearly 30 tents were set up and occupied by vendors, nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups. Eric Stamp, owner and operator of Stamp, the printing shop in downtown Auburn, was selling merchandise out of the tent closest to the stage. 

Stamp is a frequent supporter of various progressive social movements in the area, helping supply signs for Doug Jones’ reelection campaign and for the protesters at the Toomer’s Sit-In, and said he felt offering his business’s resources was an effective way to forward those causes.

“There’s a void in those issues, and anyone supporting those needs help,” Stamp said. “It’s good to get behind that, and it does make it easier and feel a little bit less like it’s an uphill battle.”

Stamp, who is a longtime resident of Auburn, remembered times when the community was much less accepting, like when some Auburn University students and SGA members tried to remove the University’s first gay-straight alliance from campus in the ‘90s. Thinking back to those times helped him realize how far they have come, Stamp said.

“It’s a long time coming,” he said. “Just to be here with this group and this many people and this many organizations all trying to push the same direction, it’s inspiring.”

Landry said all of the work his organization did was to create a comfortable space for LGBTQ people.

“[PrideFest] was a chance for us just to celebrate and let people come together in a place that, outside of Pride on the Plains, is often harder for them to be themselves,” Landry said.

In that space, “there’s an element of joy and freedom,” said Daisy Griffin, family liaison for the Auburn chapter of PFLAG, an organization which supports LGBTQ individuals and their families.

Garan Tinsley said this was the first Pride event he ever attended and didn’t know what to expect, but he was very happy with how the event turned out.

“I was hoping to feel a sense of solidarity, and I definitely felt that,” Tinsley said.

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At 5:30, Pride on The Plains announced the recipients of awards for their work improving the lives of LGBTQ people. One of the recipients was Stacy Russell, an Auburn student who passed away in July 2020.

Sharon Cox, the drag performer who emceed the festival, spoke to the audience after the awards were announced.

“Everybody look around,” she said. “See the people around you? That’s Pride. Pride is not a group of headliners. Pride is not a group of drag queens and drag kings performing for you, that’s just the celebration part of it. You are Pride. What you do on your day to day, what you do with the other 11 months, that’s what Pride is.”

Evan Mealins | Editor-in-chief

Evan Mealins, senior in philosophy and economics, is the editor-in-chief of The Auburn Plainsman.


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